Asbestos is a health risk if the fibres are breathed in. This can cause diseases such as cancers of the lungs and chest lining. There is usually a long delay between first exposure and the onset of disease—it can vary from 15 to 60 years.
Asbestos was used in the UK as a building material from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s, often for fireproofing and insulation. Systems with asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were widely used for the construction of schools during this period. More generally, buildings built before 2000 can contain asbestos.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be carrying out a programme of inspections to schools in England, Scotland and Wales from September 2022 onwards. They will assess how schools are managing risks from asbestos and meeting the ‘duty to manage’ requirements under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR). For most schools, the duty-holder will be the employer. Who the employer is varies with the type of school; more on this can be found via the HSE website.
How to prepare
HSE inspectors will contact the school before visiting to arrange a date and time. They will need to speak to someone who knows about how asbestos is managed in the school. They may require documentation in advance of the visit, such as the asbestos register and management plan.
Duty-holders should review their current arrangements and check that they are meeting their duties under CAR. This includes taking reasonable steps to find out if there are ACMs on the premises, the amount, location, and its condition. Records of this should be maintained and updated. Duty-holders should presume that materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not.
Duty-holders should also assess the risk of exposure and prepare an asbestos management plan setting out how the risks will be managed. Steps should be taken to put the plan in action, and it should be periodically reviewed and kept up to date. Anyone who is liable to work on or disturb the ACMs should be informed of the location and condition of the materials. They should also be given suitable training. Duty-holders will also have a role in briefing contractors.
If something goes wrong
If there is a disturbance of asbestos, duty-holders should stop any activity in the affected area, remove everyone from it, but not remove any items as these can cause the spread of asbestos. Expert advice for remedial work should be sought immediately. There may be a need to decontaminate individuals and areas. Some incidents may need reporting to the HSE. Staff, pupils, students and their parents or carers should be informed of the risks and advised to consult their doctor.
The release of asbestos fibres into the air poses a major health risk and schools have legal duties to manage asbestos on their premises. It is essential that duty-holders know what their legal duties are.
In addition to the duties under the CAR, there are wider duties under health and safety legislation to account for too. We are happy to assist with any concerns you might have about complying with the relevant legislation. It is particularly important that these concerns are dealt with as HSE inspections started in September 2022.