Asbestos in UK Schools
The management of asbestos in schools is currently a hot topic. Government, HSE (Health & Safety Executive), industry experts, pressure groups all have something to say.
Paul Wright CCP (Asbestos), Head of Asbestos Services reports;
In 2013/14 the HSE inspected 153 UK schools outside of local authority control. These included foundation, voluntary-aided, independent, academies and free schools. The purpose of the inspections was twofold:
- To assess the level of compliance with CAR2012 (Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012).
- To inform future interventions within the education sector.
The results were published in June 2014 and revealed that of all the schools inspected, 20 (13%) received formal enforcement action. The failures were attributed to these schools having a less than robust asbestos management plan.
Regulation 4 of the CAR2012 places a legal duty on the person(s) directly responsible for the maintenance and repair of every non domestic premise including schools. With regard to schools, headteachers, school governors, and other members of the school management team need to know who is responsible for asbestos management procedures and documentation. In addition, it is vital that maintenance, repair work and improvements on school buildings are carried out safely. This is an ongoing commitment, not a one-off survey that can then be left on the shelf.
However, the above only addresses the law and process. More importantly, what about the children?
For over forty years, warnings have been given to successive UK governments that children are more at risk from asbestos than adults. Dr Robin Rudd, a UK Consultant Physician has stated that
“all asbestos exposure is cumulative” and “later exposure adds to earlier exposure.”
The increased vulnerability of children is twofold:
- They will live longer for the disease to develop.
- During their school years their physiology is still developing.
In 1991 the Chairman of the US Committee in Environmental Hazards wrote:
“We are the inheritors of history and our children are the inheritors of our mistakes and our failures. We have failed in the past. The result of our collective failure is reflected in the fact that asbestos is widespread in schools and other buildings today.”
I believe the UK government has prevaricated for too long. It has a responsibility to fully assess the matter through a proper risk assessment on researched facts. The management of asbestos in schools can then be based on firm conclusions.
On the back of the HSE study, Pennington Choices Ltd launched a ‘Back to School’ campaign in south London to highlight the potential risks to staff, children and other building users from having ACMs (asbestos containing materials) at their school.
We have been working with the responsible person(s) at each school to understand their obligations, appropriately manage the ACMs and consequently protect the buildings occupants from the potential of asbestos exposure.