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Starting in September 2022, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) commenced a programme of inspections across England, Scotland and Wales to examine how the education sector is managing the risks of asbestos. In July 2023 HSE published their ‘Management of Asbestos in School Buildings’ report on this inspection programme.
In this blog post, we summarise the key findings and insights from the HSE report to highlight the critical importance of asbestos management in buildings.
The HSE report highlights that asbestos remains a significant hazard in many school buildings constructed before its ban in the late 1990s. Numerous schools, including local authority-maintained schools, academies and free schools still contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). If these materials are disturbed or damaged, they can release harmful fibres into the air, posing serious health risks to occupants and visitors.
The report reaffirms the well-known dangers associated with asbestos exposure. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to life-threatening conditions, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Even low levels of exposure over time can result in serious health consequences. It is crucial to remember that symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses may not manifest for several decades after exposure, making prevention and management paramount.
An effective asbestos management plan is the key to mitigating health risks. Building owners and managers have a legal obligation to identify, assess, and manage ACMs on their premises. This duty to manage asbestos includes conducting regular asbestos surveys, risk assessments, and implementing appropriate control measures to minimise the risk of fibre release. All duty holders who are responsible for the maintenance and repair of estates should be complying with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
The HSE report emphasises the importance of proper communication and training regarding asbestos risks. Occupants, employees, and contractors must be informed about the presence of ACMs and educated on how to handle them safely. Adequate training ensures that everyone on the premises understands the risks and knows the necessary precautions to avoid disturbing asbestos-containing materials.
While asbestos management is crucial to keep ACMs in good condition, the HSE report also highlights the benefits of considering asbestos removal where feasible and safe. Complete removal eliminates the risk of asbestos exposure entirely, providing peace of mind to building occupants.
The report emphasises that failure to comply with asbestos management regulations and any relevant health and safety laws can result in severe penalties, including legal action, fines, and reputational damage. Building owners and managers must prioritise compliance to protect the health and safety of all individuals using the premises.
The HSE’s comprehensive report on asbestos management underscores the importance of dealing with this hazardous material responsibly. Asbestos poses significant health risks, and proper management is vital to protect building occupants, employees, visitors, and members of the public. By conducting regular surveys, risk assessments, and providing the necessary training, building owners and managers can create a safe environment for all.
Barker can offer advice and training to organisations wanting help with the management of asbestos. Our previous blog and webinar on asbestos management in schools can be viewed HERE.
Remember, compliance with asbestos regulations is not only a legal requirement but also a moral responsibility that should never be overlooked. If you suspect or need assistance in managing asbestos in your school or college building, consult with qualified professionals to ensure the safety of everyone involved.