The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently released the findings of an extensive review of asbestos management in schools across Great Britain for the 2022/23 period. Spanning 421 schools, the report offers an in-depth examination of how these institutions are complying with their legal duties under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
The majority of inspected schools showed compliance with legal requirements and demonstrated effective systems for managing and monitoring the condition of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). However, a minor fraction (7%) showed significant system failings, necessitating enforcement notices for rectification. The report emphasizes that most of these failings revolved around improvements needed in their management plans or surveys.
Further, only one school visit detected a risk of exposure to asbestos that was significant enough to necessitate the issuance of prohibition notices, barring access until the asbestos was safely removed. Importantly, this occurrence was limited to boiler rooms, which were inaccessible to pupils and teaching staff.
Several common areas of improvement emerged from the inspections. For instance, some schools lacked an up-to-date survey that clearly shows the asbestos location throughout the premises. Additionally, a few did not have a clear, site-specific asbestos management plan or regular monitoring of the condition of ACMs. Schools also fell short in preparing for unplanned asbestos disturbances or establishing procedures for relaying information to emergency services in such events. Clear roles and responsibilities regarding asbestos management were lacking in some schools, with contingency plans for staff absences also absent. Lastly, there were schools that did not ensure that contractors tendering for work provided risk assessments, method statements, and evidence of asbestos awareness training.
The report clarified that while there were failings in some schools' management systems, this did not necessarily mean that there was an actual risk of exposure to asbestos. The findings of these inspections will be used to inform future intervention strategies in the education sector and help schools identify areas for improvement.
The HSE's comprehensive series of inspections, conducted between September 2022 and March 2023, were aimed at assessing the effectiveness of asbestos management arrangements and determining compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
The findings of the inspections provide a significant opportunity for schools to identify and rectify areas of improvement. Schools that follow the guidance and comply with the regulations ensure that asbestos poses no risk to pupils, staff, or visitors. The HSE recommends that schools regularly review their asbestos management plans, maintain up-to-date asbestos location registers, and ensure staff and contractors are adequately trained and informed about asbestos-related risks.
Schools across Great Britain are urged to heed the findings and recommendations of this report and ensure that their asbestos management systems are robust, up-to-date, and regularly reviewed.
You can download the full report from the HSE website.