In 2016, there are stringent standards that building materials have to meet for them to make it into the construction supply chain. However, as the risks associated with asbestos were not officially recognised until the 1970s, the substance remains in significant quantities within Britain’s built environment. Here, Noelyn Allen, business development director for Environment & Safety Services at SOCOTEC, discusses the importance of asbestos management within the UK’s education sector.
During the 20th century, the United Kingdom was the biggest global user of asbestos based materials. Although the mineral has not legally made its way into buildings since its ban in 1999, there are still thousands of tonnes of the fibres located within properties in Britain.
Asbestos can be found in all types of UK structures built before the year 2000, including many schools and academies. A 2015 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Occupational Health concluded that more than 75 per cent of Britain’s state schools currently contain asbestos. In the same year, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) put this figure at around 90 per cent.
If managed carefully, asbestos in a school does not pose a risk to building occupants. However, any disturbance of the fibres has the potential to endanger lives. With hundreds of school buildings around the country due to be upgraded or refurbished under Government plans such as those being turned into academies, managing asbestos across these properties needs to remain a priority for duty-holders.
Materials of most concern are surfaces that have been sprayed with asbestos as these can readily release airborne fibres over the course of many years without anyone being aware. These asbestos containing materials can include ceilings, structural beams, windows and door surrounds.
In an attempt to tackle the issue, the Department for Education conducted a review of its policy on the management of asbestos in schools, which resulted in the issuing of updated guidance in March 2015. This document aims to make sure school leaders, governors, local authorities and academy trusts understand their obligations in relation to asbestos management in schools, helping them remain compliant with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
Within the guidence, dutyholders are defined as the people responsible for maintenance and/or repair of the school, typically the employer. For community schools, this is usually the local authority and for academies it may be the school governors. Within all school buildings, these people must understand that they have the legal responsibility to locate and assess the risk posed by asbestos as well as develop a risk management plan.
The Government and various action groups are taking active steps forward to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos in school properties. This being said, there is still work to be done. In its guidance, the Department for Education states that “while the majority of school leaders have a good understanding of their responsibilities, there is lack of awareness amongst a small, but significant, minority.” By seeking out expert advice and specialist management services, those charged with safeguarding the wellbeing of our teachers and children can ensure the highest possible levels of safety within their premises.
SOCOTEC offers UKAS accredited asbestos management and consultancy services, giving those in the education sector expert advice to ensure asbestos is being managed properly in schools. Our highly experienced consultants offer independent advice and flexible solutions, which are supported by our own in-house UKAS accredited testing laboratories No.0148 and No.1089. For more information, email [email protected]