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Asbestos In Schools – A View From The Inside  

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Last Updated on 7 December 2022

asbestos in schools uk

Asbestos still a problem in our schools

Put ‘asbestos’ into any internet search engine and lots of relevant statutory information and advertising appears. However put ‘asbestos in schools’ into a search engine and lots of worrying information appears. If you want to know why this is, look at the facts;

  • The Governments own figures show asbestos is still present in around 80% of UK schools
  • The Governments own committee on carcinogenicity has suggested younger lungs are more vulnerable to asbestos
  • Teachers are disproportionately dying of Mesothelioma, one of the worst cancers

So what is the problem, if we have appropriate legislation concerning the ‘management of asbestos’?

We do have appropriate legislation to cover all aspects of asbestos within the school environment. This includes the duty to retain a register of the asbestos, a management plan and appropriate training for those likely to be affected by asbestos.

There are, however, two fundamental problems with the whole process. Firstly, there is a real knowledge and understanding gap within the hierarchy of schools. Heads and teachers are under enormous pressure to achieve results whilst having limited support on health and safety issues, particularly in smaller schools.

School Governors are often part time and inexperienced in these important matters. Independent schools or schools outside the control of the local authority are often more at risk of the problems associated with asbestos as they don’t have the centralised support and experience readily available.

Secondly, the HSE don’t really have the capacity to get on top of the problem. They have been underfunded for years and seen their budgets cut. This has affected their ability to police the industry, despite what they may say publicly.

Our position as an asbestos surveying and management company gives us a unique viewpoint on the problem. We access schools on a daily basis to give advice, undertake surveys and management inspections.

Therefore we can see first-hand the problems the schools experience. There are some great schools out there with excellent practice, but unfortunately these are in the minority. The main problems we see are;

  • Lack of knowledge, leadership, awareness
  • Old outdated survey information
  • Management plans which are not fit for purpose
  • Damaged asbestos materials in areas where staff and children are working
  • Lack of money to address any problems

So what is the solution to asbestos in our schools?

Currently it needs all parties to pull in the same direction. This must come from the top, from government (supported by the HSE) with money to back it up. It should be mandatory for anyone who works in a school (teachers, cleaners, contractors etc.) to receive appropriate ‘asbestos awareness training’.

There should be regular meetings in schools who have asbestos, to ensure the ‘plan’ is working. There should be a national database showing what asbestos is present in which school, accessible by contractors at the appropriate time. This will allow greater accountability and transparency.

Our survey team were recently in a large secondary school and I have seen pictures of damaged asbestos products where children and staff were present. It’s depressing and demoralising to see. Separately, I provide free asbestos advice to my daughter’s school because I can, but others do not have the luxury.

Asbestos insulation board ceiling hatch school

An asbestos insulation board (AIB) ceiling hatch seen from the reverse side (roofspace). Unsealed and in a school.

Check if your school has an existing asbestos survey

The government’s own figures show asbestos is present in over 80% of UK Schools.

The majority of schools will have some form of asbestos survey, which is a good thing.

If you have the responsibility for asbestos in a school then you will generally be the head teacher, head master or possibly the local authority.

The first question to ask yourself is: How old is the asbestos survey? 

If it was carried out a number of years ago, then it may either be out of date because works have been undertaken and the information not updated. Or it may have been undertaken before more recent legislative changes, in the way surveys are supposed to be conducted.

The key aspect however is the Asbestos Management Plan for the school. This is a legal requirement.

What the asbestos management plan should include

  1. Asbestos Training for those in charge
  2. Regular inspection of ACMs to ensure they are safe, and if appropriate, labelled.
  3. All contractors who work on the site should be asbestos awareness trained. They should also be informed where the asbestos is on site and whether their work will affect those ACMS.
  4. There should be procedures in place for what to do if ACMs become damaged.
  5. If building and refurbishment is taking place a more detailed asbestos survey is required.

Some schools feel they comply with the regulations by just having an annual inspection of the materials. This is insufficient and leaves children, staff and contractors at risk.

Survey, train and manage is the start and then continually review the asbestos management plan. If you need advice or asbestos training – Call us today on 0800 141 2676.

Arrange an asbestos survey for your school

If you need any advice or help with asbestos, particularly in schools and colleges within the education sector, then we provide it for free. Please give us a call on 0800 141 2676.

Alternatively, if you need to arrange for an asbestos survey for a school or college, you can give us a phone call on the above number or get in touch using our online form.

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