What you need to know about asbestos in schools

Asbestos in schools

Asbestos was widely used in the construction of school buildings from the 1950s onwards, and although it was banned at the end of 1999, the substance remains present in many of our educational establishments.

Dealing with asbestos in schools isn’t a straightforward issue, however, and it’s not always the best policy to remove it. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice is to leave it in place unless it’s damaged or the materials have started to degrade.

If you’re involved in the running or maintenance of a school building you need to find out whether asbestos is present, and if so, manage it correctly.

Types of asbestos commonly found in school buildings

Asbestos-containing materials often include:

  • Asbestos insulating boarding (AIB), such as partition walling
  • Asbestos cement roofing, guttering, downpipes
  • Sprayed asbestos coatings – for thermal insulation  and fireproofing
  • Textured coatings such as Artex
  • Ceiling and/or floor tiles
  • Asbestos lagging on pipe work and boilers

When asbestos in schools becomes a risk to health

If asbestos materials degrade or become damaged, microscopic fibres can be released and are easily inhaled or ingested. They’re not easy to see but once breathed in can set up terminal diseases in later life.

The fact that asbestos is in this type of building also presents specific dangers, and given the rough and tumble of everyday life in this environment, it’s clear that asbestos in schools must be closely and carefully managed.

So if you’re a duty holder what must you do?

Responsibilities of a duty holder for asbestos

Essentially, a duty holder must know if asbestos lies within the school, and if so, the location and condition of ACMs. The whereabouts of asbestos materials must be documented and their condition monitored, information provided to anyone working on the building, and appropriate asbestos training provided for relevant members of staff.

Teachers should also be made aware of the existence and location of asbestos so they can avoid inadvertently releasing the fibres – by pinning artwork to partition walling that contain asbestos, for example.

When works need to be carried out on the building

It’s crucial to develop an asbestos management plan, keep it updated, and advise any contractors working at the site about the presence and whereabouts of ACMs. You also need to make sure contractors who might come across/disturb asbestos have the necessary training and qualifications – contractors must be licensed to work with certain types of asbestos-containing materials.

The risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibres during remediation or other works may mean a building has to close temporarily to protect the health of children, teachers, and support staff.   If you would like more information on asbestos in schools, our experts at Acorn Analytical Services can help. We offer a full range of asbestos services to schools in the UK, which given the high prevalence of ACMs in these environments, provide vital protection to one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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