Synergy News & Blog: Guildford Office

Is your school managing the risk?

Is your school managing the risk?

With the recent news that nearly a quarter of schools in England (23%) have not reported to the government how much asbestos they have in their buildings and how they are managing the risks, we take a look at the management of asbestos in schools.

Asbestos was widely used in England from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used as a building material for a variety of purposes, typically fireproofing and insulation. Its use in England was banned in 1999, so any school building that were built before 2000 may contain asbestos.

If managed correctly the presence of asbestos does not pose a risk. However disturbed or damaged asbestos can pose a serious health risk to pupils, staff and visitors. According to the National Education Union, more than 200 teachers have died since 2001 from mesothelioma, a form of cancer associated with asbestos (The real numbers are likely to be much higher because these figures do not include anyone over the age of 75).

So what should the duty-holder/school be doing? An asbestos management survey is essential to identify ACM’s (asbestos containing materials) which may be disturbed as a result of routine maintenance or everyday activities. This needs to be carried out for all school buildings constructed before 2000, including new buildings with components of pre-2000 buildings. This survey must be all-inclusive, establishing the location, type and condition of ACMs. The purpose of this survey is to produce an asbestos register, which records the location and condition of the asbestos. The survey will look in all accessible places, including above the ceilings and in-floor ducting.

Once the management survey is complete, the risk associated with each identified occurrence will form part of an Asbestos Management Plan. When reviewing the likelihood of disturbance, it is crucial to fully consider the use of the location and the people who may be present. For example children playing energetic unsupervised football in an area with asbestos ceiling tiles are more likely to disturb ACM’s than teachers and visitors.

Once the location and the associated risk of the ACMs has been established then a plan must be put in place on how to manage these and how relevant staff are trained. This robust plan should be communicated amongst staff so all know what precautions are required in areas with ACMs (i.e. school work being pinned to walls) and a clear understanding of the importance of reporting damage or deterioration to school fixtures or fittings that could lead to the release of asbestos fibres.

The completed register with the risk rating of identified asbestos types and locations plus risk assessments and action plans will form the Asbestos Management Plan (AMP). This should be regularly reviewed (annually) and updated with any new relevant information received.

In addition, if a school carries out any building or maintenance work which encroaches on the fabric of the building, then a refurbishment and demolition survey should be carried out on the area of the work. This will apply to both smaller projects carried out by the schools own maintenance staff right through to larger projects contracted out. It is unacceptable to rely on a schools asbestos management survey as when this took place it only covered readily accessible areas. A fully intrusive survey is required and should be carried out under controlled conditions i.e. it is not appropriate for areas in live occupation. The findings of this survey should be given to those carrying out the works so that appropriate measures can be put in place for carrying out the works.

Should you need any support or advice in relation to the management of asbestos in your school please contact us.

Data sources:
National Union of Teachers
Parliamentary transcripts
Education & Skills Funding Agency – Managing Asbestos in Schools

Posted on 18/1/2019

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