Asbestos removal and management in schools

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Asbestos removal and management is a key issue in schools, as the carcinogen was widely used for fireproofing and insulation in the construction of education buildings from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s.

It is believed that up to 75% of schools have some asbestos containing materials, with the system buildings, such as CLASP, SCOLA and SEAC, that were so often chosen for schools all likely to feature the substance.

Unfortunately, awareness of the risks of disturbing that asbestos came too late for some and it is estimated that more than 290 teachers have died from mesothelioma in the past 35 years as a result of inhaling fibres. It is believed that a number of support staff have also died of asbestos-related illnesses and that some people developed lung diseases after being exposed to fibres while at school.

Where can asbestos be found in schools?

System buildings often have asbestos containing materials used to fireproof structural columns, but that is far from the only place they can be found in schools.

Asbestos insulating board and sprayed asbestos were widely used for insulation and partitioning, while textured coatings and tiles used for walls, ceilings and floors may also contain the substance. Lagging used as insulation on pipes and boilers is often asbestos based, while asbestos cement was a common choice for roofing and guttering.

This asbestos does not pose a threat to health as long as it is in a good condition and remains undisturbed, so teachers and pupils should not be at risk of exposure to deadly fibres during normal lessons. However, there are a number of ways in which asbestos can be damaged and become a health risk.

The most obvious of these is during maintenance, refurbishment or wiring/cabling work, during which drills and other tools are likely to be used. It is also possible for pupils to disturb asbestos by pinning things to insulation boards or during minor acts of vandalism.

Asbestos management in schools

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 apply to schools in the same way they do to other public buildings and commercial premises, so steps must be taken if any of the school buildings were constructed before 2000.

A dutyholder needs to be identified and given responsibility for asbestos management. This is typically the local authority, governors or proprietor, depending on the type of school, but in some circumstances it can be the school management’s responsibility.

The dutyholder must establish whether there are any asbestos containing materials in the premises, where they are located and what condition they are in. Typically, the starting point for this is to have an asbestos survey carried out, as the results will allow you to draw up a plan to manage the risks.

The plan should include regular assessments of the condition of any asbestos, keeping an up-to-date record of it and making sure all staff that may come into contact with the substance receive the correct training on the importance of not disturbing it and reporting any deterioration in its condition. Information also needs to be made available to any contractors due to work on site, to help them avoid disturbing the asbestos.

Asbestos management or asbestos removal for schools?

While it remains in a good condition and undisturbed, asbestos poses no risk to health, so it is possible to keep staff and pupils safe by using a thorough and effective management plan.

However, there is a growing body of opinion that the special circumstances of schools mean that all asbestos should be removed from them to eradicate any chance of people being exposed to it. Groups representing mesothelioma sufferers have long called for this course of action and a number of teaching unions now support the idea of designing and implementing a plan to remove all asbestos containing materials from schools.

A licensed contractor using fully trained staff will be able to safely remove asbestos of all types from schools, to dispose of it in the proper way and to undertake a thorough clean up after completing the work. This type of removal can be completed as part of a refurbishment project or scheduled for holiday periods in order to avoid any added disruption to lessons.

For advice about asbestos removal from schools, please get in touch with BLS Asbestos by calling 01484 400558 or via the website. We have extensive experience of working with educational establishments, both as part of multi-site refurbishment projects and on an ad hoc basis.

Published: 10th December 2014