A timely reminder of the importance of the right asbestos management surveys in educational establishments is the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) publication of the results of its most recent asbestos in schools inspection initiative.
The period between April 2013 and January 2014 saw the inspection by HSE of a carefully selected random sample of 153 schools outside local authority control, including independent, voluntary aided and foundation schools, academies and free schools.
71 per cent of the inspected schools were not required to make any changes to their present asbestos management arrangements or were given straightforward, simple advice. HSE did give written advice to 29 per cent (44 schools), and needed to take enforcement action for 13 per cent (20 schools). This action was in the form of improvement notices setting out a requirement for recipient schools to adjust their asbestos management arrangements.
Failures like training staff and the production of written management plans attracted enforcement action – not due to pupils or staff being deemed at significant risk of exposure, but because these are vital elements of the required control measures.
The new survey showed an overall improvement in compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations in England, Scotland and Wales compared to the findings of a similar programme that inspected 164 non-local authority schools in 2010/11, when 28 schools had 41 improvement notices served upon them.
The Head of HSE’s Public Services Sector, Geoff Cox, said that the last few years had seen “a lot of work by stakeholders across the school sector to raise awareness of the duty to manage asbestos. It is really encouraging to see that awareness of the requirements has increased since our previous inspection initiative.
“That said, schools should not be under any illusion – managing asbestos requires ongoing attention. Schools now have access to a wealth of guidance setting out clear and straightforward steps to achieve and maintain compliance. Where duty holders fall below acceptable standards, HSE has taken, and will continue to take, enforcement action.”
All schools are required to have up to date records of materials within their establishment that contain asbestos, so that the school knows the location of such materials that could be damaged or disturbed by normal activities or foreseeable maintenance, or when new equipment is being installed.
There is no significant risk to health posed by asbestos in good condition that remains undamaged and undisturbed, provided that appropriate asbestos management takes place in compliance with the legal requirements and in line with published HSE advice.
Training for maintenance staff whose work could lead to their exposure to asbestos is also essential, with such personnel needing to be made aware of the location and condition of any asbestos in the school.