Asbestos in schools
We reported this week a statistic from 2012 that suggested asbestos was considered likely to be present in 85% of schools in Wales: representing over 1,500 schools in total.
The reason that particular statistic resurfaced this week is because of a call by campaigners in Wales to take more radical action on asbestos in schools, as asbestos-related deaths continue to rise both in the education sector and across the wider population.
Such claims echo those of the NUT, whose 2014 report identified around 75% of Britain’s 29,000 schools as having asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), calling on the government to take urgent action, amongst other things through implementing a phased removal of asbestos from schools.
It quoted the findings of a 2010 survey of more than 600 school safety representatives, which suggested that more than a quarter of schools were failing to adequately mark up the presence of ACMs on school premises.
While the rate of asbestos-related deaths in the education sector is not significantly different from the average, ACMs tend to be more present in schools buildings, many of which were constructed in the early years after the Second World War when use of asbestos was most prevalent. And the presence of children can contribute to an increased risk of disturbing ACMs in schools premises.
The risks may be higher for schools outside of local authority control. HSE undertook an inspection of 153 such schools in 2013/14, taking in a range of school types. While understanding of their legal responsibilities as duty holders (under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012) was good, at 95%, nearly a third of schools (44 schools, 29%) were nevertheless issued with written advice by the HSE, and of these, almost half (20 schools) had an Improvement Notice served upon them.
Only 77% of schools outside of local authorities visited had an asbestos management plan, with almost a quarter in contravention of the asbestos Regulations.
So do the teaching unions and campaigners have a point? It’s fine for the law to say in the majority of cases it’s safer to leave asbestos in place than to remove it. But only if it’s being managed. The high number of Improvement Notices issued, and the large percentage of schools without an asbestos management plan, would suggest that more action is indeed needed.
International Workplace conducts training in asbestos awareness, and the responsibilities of duty holders – call us on +44 (0) 871 777 8881 for details. Useful guidance for parents and school governors is available from OCS Environmental Services (http://www.ocsenvironmentalservices.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/623-BROCHURE-A4-12.pdf, download). And further information on asbestos removal contractors can be found from ARCA: http://www.arca.org.uk.