Asbestos was widely used in building materials in the UK with peak application in the 1960’s and 70’s. Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) were finally banned in the UK in 1999 due to the evidence that exposure to asbestos fibres causes a number of serious lung conditions such as Mesothelioma, Lung Cancers and Lung Fibrosis known as Asbestosis.
Asbestos in Schools
While an asbestos legacy remains across a large proportion of pre-1999 UK building stock, Asbestos Containing Materials are estimated to be present in as many as 86% of schools in the UK. If this were not evidence enough of the critical importance of asbestos management in schools, mortality statistics show that over 250 teachers have died from Mesothelioma since 1980.
Asbestos in Schools Campaign
If well bonded, sealed and undisturbed, it is widely recognised that Asbestos Containing Materials may be left in-situ however, careful management including labelling and regular asbestos condition inspection are recommend in order to meet with the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR 2012).
The risk of exposure to asbestos fibres increases should materials be disturbed or damaged through maintenance, repair, and construction activities or even simply due to the deterioration of asbestos materials over time. For damaged materials, asbestos removal or encapsulation by an HSE Licenced Asbestos Removal Contractor may be the only option, though these works may incur significant cost.
Concerns have been raised by campaigners such as Michael Lees from the Asbestos in Schools Group that even when asbestos is left and managed in-situ in schools that asbestos containing materials have the potential to be damaged and disturbed by teachers and pupils alike (Michael Lees’ wife was a school teacher and sadly died from Mesothelioma 15 years ago).
Factors such as the daily usage of buildings by pupils and teachers, high footfall and the wear and tear incurred on the building fabric may accelerate damage to existing asbestos containing materials.
In March 2015, BBC News highlighted in a short film, several incidents of staff and pupils who had unknowingly been exposed to asbestos fibres when they were at school. Years later, they suffer the consequences of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB)- used for display boards and fire protection might be disturbed when teachers pin items to boards with drawing pins, each time potentially releasing a dose of the deadly fibres and over time the exposure gradually increases. The film can be viewed below:
Legal Duty to Manage Asbestos in Schools
Schools have a legal duty to manage asbestos containing materials under the UK Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR 2012). The primary responsibility for managing asbestos in schools lies with those responsible for the maintenance and repair of the premises – classified as the duty holder. The duty holder is legally responsible for safe management of asbestos containing materials in schools and is liable to be prosecuted if the regulations are breached.
The Department for Education has reviewed its policy on asbestos management and published a revised document in March 2015 detailing steps to be taken to address the safe and effective management of asbestos in schools. In February 2015 the Department announced over £6 billion of new investment to improve the condition of schools and highlighted that asbestos management in schools can be dealt with effectively.
Asbestos that is in good condition and unlikely to be damaged or disturbed is not a significant risk to health as long as an asbestos management programme is in place.
Carrying out an Asbestos Management Survey will identify what type of asbestos containing materials are present, the condition of the materials, their extent and detail the risk of asbestos fibre release for each material.
By employing a UKAS Accredited organisation such as HBI, Asbestos Management Surveys will ascertain any areas of priority for which asbestos containing materials need managing.
School caretakers and contractors are the group most likely to be at risk of disturbing the fabric of buildings due to the nature of the work they undertake. It is essential therefore that these individuals have appropriate Asbestos Awareness Training and that Duty Holders, Head Teachers, Governors and Premises Managers also attend regular training to ensure they are aware of the dangers, locations and precautions to be taken with properly managing asbestos.
If staff in your school need asbestos awareness training, or for further information on asbestos management surveys click here
Alternatively please email [email protected] or call HBI on +44 (0) 118 988 9999 for more information.