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Managing asbestos in schools outside local authority control 2013/14

Introduction

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR) place duties on those who have responsibilities for the maintenance of work premises, including schools, to manage the risk from asbestos.

In 2013/14 HSE undertook an inspection initiative in schools outside of local authority control.  The initiative followed the same protocol as the 2010/11 programme but targeted a different sample of schools.  The aim of the initiative was to assess the level of compliance with CAR in a carefully structured random sample of schools. 

HSE Inspectors visited a total of 153 schools - 131 in England, 11 in Scotland and 11 in Wales.  A range of school types were included – foundation, voluntary-aided, independent, academies and free schools.  This report summarises the findings and identifies key messages to help all schools manage the risks from asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

Summary of findings

HSE’s statistics unit collated the results of all the inspections and a detailed report is available online. Overall, the duty holders’ awareness of their legal responsibilities was 9% higher than the level found in the 2010/11 inspection programme, with 95% of schools having a full or broad understanding of the requirements. 

The majority of schools that were inspected (71%) required either no further action or were given straightforward advice.  However, 44 schools (29%) received written advice, with enforcement action taken in 20 of these schools (13%) - an Improvement Notice was served on each of these 20 schools.  In 2010/11, HSE served 41 Improvement Notices on 28 schools (17% of the schools visited). The failures addressed by the 2013/14 Notices, and the number served, were as follows:

Dutyholders’ awareness of their legal duties is a useful indicator of compliance – and raising awareness has been an important element of ensuring ongoing management of asbestos.  Much work has been carried out by stakeholders across the school sector to raise awareness of the duty to manage asbestos.  However, while good awareness and good compliance was noted in the majority of schools inspected in 2013/14, there are some key lessons that can be shared across all schools.

Findings/key messages

The results of these inspections should make clear to schools that managing asbestos requires ongoing attention.  Schools have access to a wealth of guidance setting out clear and straightforward steps to achieve and maintain compliance.  Where duty holders fall below acceptable standards HSE has taken, and will continue to take, enforcement action. 

Schools should focus particular attention on the following issues.

Schools should make sure that their records are up to date

An asbestos management survey is an effective way to help school duty holders to manage asbestos in their premises. A proper survey provides accurate information about the extent, type and location of asbestos, and the condition it is in, so that risks can be assessed and priorities set.

85% of the schools visited had carried out an asbestos management survey. In some schools, however, the records were not up to date or did not include all the buildings.  Enforcement action requiring improvements on this issue was taken against eight schools – compared to two in 2010/11.

Where refurbishment work had been undertaken in some of the schools that had recently become academies, the asbestos register did not always reflect current information about presence, location and condition of ACMs.

Key message

All school duty holders should have up to date records of ACMs in their school. The management survey is an essential part of these records - its purpose is to locate ACMs that could be damaged or disturbed by normal activities, by foreseeable maintenance, or when installing new equipment.

Schools must have an asbestos management plan

The Regulations require duty holders to have a written plan of the actions and measures necessary to manage the risks from ACMs.  77% of the schools visited had an asbestos management plan, a 14% improvement on 2010/11.

Eight Improvement Notices were served requiring either the production or improvement of an asbestos management plan.  Those improvements included better monitoring procedures, incorporating procedures to manage contractors, and formalising existing precautions that were in place.

Key message

Schools should have a site-specific asbestos management plan.  Where the status of a school changes from local authority control, the management team needs to be fully conversant with the plan and should satisfy itself that local knowledge has been incorporated.

Schools must ensure that in-house operatives undertaking building and maintenance work have received adequate asbestos training

Employers must ensure that adequate information, instruction and training is given to their employees to allow them to safeguard themselves and others when carrying out work that may disturb asbestos. For just under half of the schools inspected, in-house staff did not routinely undertake maintenance work.  Amongst those schools where in-house staff were engaged in such work, 63% have training in place.  In 2010/11 our findings showed that 49% of schools with in-house staff engaged in such work had provided the appropriate level of asbestos training.  While the increase in training since 2010/11 is encouraging, greater attention is needed on this issue.

Key message

The employer of staff at the school should ensure that adequate training is given to in-house maintenance staff whose work could foreseeably expose them to asbestos.  Equally, dutyholders should ensure that they only use contractors that are trained to a sufficient standard.

Schools must have a system to inform anyone who may disturb ACMs of the presence of asbestos

The key group of personnel at risk from asbestos is tradespeople - particularly those undertaking maintenance activities.  This includes for example electricians and plumbers, but also in-house maintenance personnel.  It is imperative that up-to-date information on location and condition is available and provided to those who may damage or disturb ACMs, to prevent the release of, and exposure to, asbestos fibres.

Just over half of the schools inspected (54%) had a comprehensive system in place to ensure that anyone who may disturb ACMs would be provided with information on any asbestos that may be present.  This reflected only a slight increase on the findings for 2010/11 (50%).

Key message

Duty holders in schools must ensure that anyone who may disturb asbestos is made aware of its location and condition. Methods commonly used include permit-to-work systems, labelling ACMs clearly, and providing a plan with the locations of all ACMs marked on it.

Updated 2014-06-27