Are You Concerned About Asbestos In Schools?

Asbestos, a hazardous material long associated with health risks, remains a significant concern in schools throughout the United Kingdom.

Despite efforts to manage and eliminate asbestos, this problem persists in a large number of educational institutions.

This article will examine the reasons for asbestos usage in schools, its history, locations, associated risks, and management strategies.

Additionally, we will discuss the roles and responsibilities of duty holders and provide examples of ongoing asbestos issues in UK schools.

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Asbestos In Schools

Asbestos is a mineral that has exceptional properties hence why it was used commercially in the UK for over a hundred years until November 1999. Asbestos fibres were added to building materials which were used in the construction and refurbishment of many buildings including schools throughout the UK.

Asbestos was finally banned because there is a tragic downside to the exceptional properties that the mineral has – it can cause both cancer and non-cancerous effects when humans are exposed to asbestos fibres.

This is due in part to our widespread use of asbestos insulating board (AIB) as ceiling and wall components. This material contained amosite (brown) asbestos. Amosite belongs in the amphibole group of asbestos which is the most toxic to the human body.

Schools are regarded as unique places because they contain children who are more at risk from asbestos exposure than adults. The problem in this country with asbestos in schools is that asbestos is present in more than 75% of Britain’s schools, all the asbestos is old and much of it is deteriorating. Over 14,000 schools were built during the period 1945-1975 when the use of asbestos was at its height and many of these schools contain asbestos insulating board products.

Britain has the highest level of mesothelioma

75 Percent of Britain’s School contain Asbestos

Asbestos is present in more than 75% of Britain’s schools.

Britain has the highest level of mesothelioma

Britain has the highest level of mesothelioma

Britain has the highest mesothelioma incidence in the world; the rate is more than twice that of France, Germany or the USA.

More people dying of asbestos 

Currently, in Britain there are more people dying from asbestos-related diseases than there are from road accident deaths per year. During the mid 1990s, these figures were at parity with 3500 deaths a year in each group. Since this time, road deaths have decreased by 45% whereas asbestos deaths have increased by 35% over the same period.

Asbestos In Schools - Why Was It Used?

Asbestos was particularly popular in school construction from the 1950s to the 1980s due to its cost-effectiveness and durability. It was often used as insulation, fireproofing, and in building materials such as ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, and cement products. Asbestos in schools was valued for its ability to prevent the spread of fire and reduce energy costs.

History of Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos in schools usage has a long and complex history that intersects with the broader industrial use of the material during the 20th century. Understanding this history is important in tackling the ongoing challenges posed by asbestos in educational institutions today.

Throughout the mid-20th century, asbestos was widely used in the construction of buildings, including schools. It was considered a "miracle mineral" due to its durability, affordability, and resistance to fire, heat, and chemicals. It was also appreciated for its sound absorption properties and tensile strength. These factors made asbestos an attractive choice for construction materials, including insulation, ceiling tiles, and cement products, which were commonly used in school buildings.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, the use of asbestos in schools construction was particularly prevalent. Schools built or refurbished during this period are likely to contain asbestos materials. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that about 75% of schools in England contain some form of asbestos.

In 1985, the UK government acknowledged these health risks and banned the use of the most dangerous types of asbestos - crocidolite (blue) and amosite (brown). However, the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos, which was mistakenly considered less harmful, continued until 1999 when a complete ban on all types of asbestos was imposed.

Despite these bans, a substantial legacy issue remains. Many schools built or refurbished prior to these bans still contain asbestos materials. The long latency period of asbestos-related diseases means that individuals exposed during the peak years of asbestos use are potentially still at risk.

In recent years, there has been growing public concern about the presence of asbestos in schools and the potential risk it poses to children and school staff. Several reports have highlighted the widespread presence of asbestos in UK schools and the lack of a systematic approach to its management and removal. This concern has led to calls for a comprehensive national approach to deal with the problem of asbestos in schools.

The history of asbestos in schools is a stark reminder of the long-lasting implications of past industrial practices. The challenge now is to manage and mitigate the risks posed by these remaining asbestos materials to ensure the safety of future generations.

asbestos in schools 3
Asbestos in schools 3

Where is Asbestos Found in Schools

When it comes to asbestos ins school, as with many buildings in particular public and local authority buildings, asbestos was extensively used in their construction. Asbestos in schools can be found in various locations, including:

  1. Ceiling tiles and textured coatings
  2. Insulation materials around pipes, boilers, and ducts
  3. Asbestos cement products, such as roof sheets and wall panels
  4. Floor tiles and adhesives
  5. Window and door seals

When Was Asbestos Banned in Schools

The use of blue and brown asbestos was banned in the UK in 1985, while the use of white asbestos was banned in 1999. However, asbestos-containing materials that were already installed before the ban can still be found in many schools.

Does My School Have Asbestos

It is highly likely that schools built or refurbished before 2000 contain asbestos materials. To determine if your school has asbestos, consult the school's asbestos management plan or contact the asbestos duty holder.


What's the Risk of Asbestos in Schools

Asbestos in schools poses a significant health risk when its fibres become airborne and are subsequently inhaled. This typically happens when asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are disturbed or damaged. For example, during renovation or maintenance work in a school or more likely, asbestos materials are accidentally damaged, causing fibres to be released into the air.

Children, teachers, and school staff can be at risk of exposure if ACMs are not properly managed. Considering the nature of schools - bustling with activity and energetic children - the risk of accidental damage and disturbance to asbestos materials, especially those that are not clearly identified or adequately protected, is considerable.

The health risks associated with asbestos inn schools exposure are severe and often do not manifest until many years after the initial exposure. Asbestos is linked to a variety of lung diseases including asbestosis, a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres that leads to scarring of the lungs, difficulty breathing, and heart failure.

In addition to asbestosis, asbestos exposure is also linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. The World Health Organisation recognises no safe level of asbestos exposure, and children are considered to be particularly vulnerable due to their long latency period and the greater chance of them inhaling fibres due to their breathing rates.

Furthermore, school staff, such as teachers and maintenance workers, are also at risk. A report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2012 suggested that teachers were more than five times more likely to develop mesothelioma compared to other professions. Similarly, maintenance staff, who may come into contact with asbestos more frequently, are also at a greater risk.

Therefore, it is critical to manage asbestos in schools effectively to protect not only students and staff but also the wider community from these potentially life-threatening health risks.

asbestos in schools 5
Asbestos in schools 1

Why are children particularly vulnerable to the effects of exposure to asbestos?

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of exposure to asbestos in schools for several reasons:

Longer life expectancy: Asbestos-related diseases often have a long latency period, meaning symptoms may not appear for 20 to 50 years after exposure. Because children have a longer life expectancy than adults, they have a higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease within their lifetime if they are exposed at an early age.

Higher breathing rates: Children breathe more rapidly than adults, and as a result, they may inhale more airborne particles, including asbestos fibres.

More time for damage: Children's cells divide more quickly than those of adults, making them more susceptible to damage from carcinogens. Also, because children's bodies are still growing and developing, the damage caused by asbestos can have a more significant impact.

Active and curious nature: Children, especially young ones, are naturally curious and active. This behaviour might lead them to disturb asbestos-containing materials without knowing the dangers associated with it.

Risk of secondary exposure: Children can also be at risk of secondary exposure to asbestos. For instance, if a family member works in an environment with asbestos and brings home the fibres on their clothing, children in the household could inhale these fibres.

All of these factors combined make children particularly susceptible to the dangers of asbestos in schools exposure, emphasising the importance of effectively managing asbestos in schools where children spend a significant amount of time.

How to Manage Asbestos in Schools

Effective management of asbestos in schools is a crucial and ongoing task to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors. It involves a comprehensive approach, including identification, asbestos management plans, regular inspections, staff training, and prompt removal/repair/encapsulation when necessary.

Identification: The first step in managing asbestos in schools is to identify its presence. This involves conducting an asbestos survey by a qualified professional. This survey will determine the location, type, and condition of any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in the school.

Asbestos Management Plan: Once asbestos has been identified, schools are required by law to have an asbestos management plan. This plan should detail where the asbestos is located, its condition, and how it will be managed. The plan should be updated regularly, particularly if there are changes in the building's use or structure, or if additional asbestos is found.

Regular Inspections: Schools should conduct regular inspections of ACMs to monitor their condition. If materials are found to be deteriorating or damaged, appropriate steps should be taken to repair or remove them.

Staff Training: All school staff should be trained on the dangers of asbestos, where it might be found in the school, and what to do if they suspect they've come across it. Maintenance staff, in particular, should be aware of areas where asbestos is present so they can avoid disturbing it during their work.

Controlled Removal/Repair: If asbestos is found to be in a condition where it poses a risk, it must be removed. However, removing asbestos can be dangerous, as it can release fibres into the air. Therefore, any removal should be carried out by licensed professionals, following the strict guidelines set out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Communication: Information about the presence of asbestos and the management plan should be communicated to all staff members, contractors, subcontractors or workers and in certain cases, to parents and students. This ensures everyone is informed about potential risks and the steps being taken to manage them.

Record Keeping: Schools should keep detailed records of asbestos management activities. This includes the initial survey report, any results of regular inspections, details of any asbestos removal, and any incidents of asbestos exposure.

The objective of managing asbestos in schools is to minimise the risk of exposure. While it is not always necessary to remove asbestos — indeed, in some cases, it may be safer to leave it undisturbed — it is crucial that any ACMs in schools are appropriately managed and monitored. This requires a commitment to regular checks, maintenance, and updating the asbestos management plan when necessary.

Asbestos in schools 4
AC lining to school fume cabinet

Asbestos in Schools Survey

To assess the presence and condition of asbestos in schools, regular surveys should be conducted by qualified professionals. There are three types of surveys:

  1. Management Survey: A standard survey to locate and assess the condition of asbestos-containing materials. This type of survey helps schools develop an effective asbestos management plan.
  2. Refurbishment Survey: A more in-depth survey conducted before any refurbishment work. This survey identifies all asbestos-containing materials in the area where work will take place to ensure they are safely removed.
  3. Demolition Survey: A significantly more in-depth survey conducted before demolition work. This survey identifies all asbestos-containing materials in the building or part of it prior to complete demolition to ensure they are safely removed.

Who is Responsible for Asbestos in Schools

The responsibility for managing asbestos in schools lies with the school management, local authorities, and school governors. They must work together to ensure that asbestos is effectively managed, and staff and students are protected from exposure.

Who is the Asbestos Duty Holder in Schools

The duty holder is the person with overall responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the property which will include managing the risk from asbestos in a school. This can be the headteacher, school governors, or the local authority, depending on the school's management structure.

The duty holder must ensure that the school complies with HSE regulations and follows the asbestos management plan.

Asbestos in Schools FAQs

asbestos in schools 2
Asbestos in schools

Is my school asbestos compliant?

To check if your school is asbestos compliant, download our asbestos in schools compliance checklist.

Alternatively, we offer a complimentary asbestos audit in schools which is undertaken by one of our qualified asbestos consultants.

To book a free asbestos audit contact us today.

Find out if your school is asbestos compliant

Download a copy of our Asbestos in School asbestos compliance audit form.

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