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Key findings from HSE’s recent Management of Asbestos in School Buildings report

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Following their recent publicised visits to 421 schools throughout the UK to assess the management of asbestos in schools, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has now published its findings in its latest publication titled Management of asbestos in school buildings 2022/23.

The aim of these visits and inspections was to help schools identify any gaps in their management systems and ensure that steps were put in place to achieve compliance with the duty to manage risks from asbestos.

The report looks at whether the schools assessed are meeting their legal duties to manage asbestos effectively. During the programme, the HSE carried out 421 inspections in schools across the UK between September 2022 and March 2023. The inspections showed that most schools were complying with their legal duties and had effective systems in place to manage and monitor the condition of asbestos containing materials (ACMs).

A small number of schools (7%) had significant enough failings in their systems, meaning enforcement notices were required to address them. Most of these failings were related to improvements being needed in their management plans or surveys.

Across the 421 inspection visits, the total number of notices served was 30, which included 2 prohibition notices and 28 improvement notices. Just over 66% of the schools visited were found to be effectively managing asbestos and required either no further action or verbal advice.

These inspections – and the follow-up letters sent by inspectors to these affected schools – identified some common areas for improvement, including:

Schools not having an up-to-date asbestos management survey on site that clearly shows the location of asbestos throughout the estate and highlights any areas not surveyed (which should be presumed to contain asbestos);

Registers not clearly indicating if remedial action identified during a survey has been completed and records updated;

  • Schools not having a clear and easily understandable asbestos management plan in place that is specific to their site;
  • Schools not regularly monitoring the condition of asbestos-containing materials;
  • Asbestos management plans not having incident procedures for dealing with an unplanned disturbance of asbestos-containing materials, or how to provide information to emergency services who attend sites;
  • School staff not having clear roles and responsibilities for managing asbestos and not having deputies or contingency plans in place to cover for staff absences;
  • Schools not ensuring that contractors tendering for work provide risk assessments, method statements, and evidence of asbestos awareness training

It is important to note that while failures were found in the management systems in some schools, this did not mean there was an actual risk of exposure to asbestos. If asbestos-containing materials are undamaged and properly maintained, with regular checks and effective monitoring to assess their condition, they can remain safely in place.

However, despite the above appearing to be quite positive reading on the outset, what the document doesn’t mention or emphasise is that there are over 32,000 schools across the country. This means that despite the best efforts of the HSE to employ a ‘stratified’ sampling approach that covered a suitable number of primary, secondary, and special educational needs (SEN) schools across a broad region, only approximately 1.5% of schools were inspected and assessed. This is a small percentage, especially considering the programme was designed to provide a general indication of conditions across a variety of schools.

You can read the full report here, which includes a breakdown of the demographics of the schools visited during the campaign.

If you are the duty holder of a school and you would like to ensure you and your school are compliant with asbestos regulations, please get in touch. As the person responsible for maintaining or repairing your premises, you have a duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to ensure you are managing asbestos correctly and effectively and taking steps to ensure known or presumed ACMs are not disturbed without proper supervision.

Environtec Limited provides a wide range of asbestos consultancysurveying and monitoring services that include providing an up-to-date asbestos register; asbestos training for all your staff and contractors; and developing an asbestos management plan for your site. This management plan should be updated every 12 months.

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