Managing asbestos in schools outside local authority control


Those responsible for the maintenance of school premises have duties under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (CAR) to manage asbestos so that the risks to staff and pupils are as low as reasonably practicable.

In 2010/11 HSE focused on schools outside local authority control as the latest initiative in a series of interventions targeting asbestos management in schools. This initiative complemented interventions in 2009/10 that checked how local authorities were managing asbestos in their schools.

The primary aim of the 2010/11 intervention was to determine the level of compliance with CAR in a sample of targeted schools. HSE inspectors inspected a random sample of 164 non-local authority schools in England, Scotland and Wales. The schools included four types: foundation, independent, academies and voluntary aided. The results of the interventions were collated, and subsequently evaluated by HSE's statistical analysis unit.

This report summarises the survey findings and identifies the key messages that all such schools must heed.

Summary of findings

Dutyholders' awareness of their legal duties provides a useful indicator of compliance – and is an important element of ensuring ongoing management of asbestos. The findings demonstrated that the majority of schools in the sample had a broad or full understanding (87%) of who the dutyholder was. No schools reported having no understanding.

Inspectors took enforcement action in 28 of the 164 schools (17%) – serving a total of 41 Improvement Notices (INs):

The breakdown of schools receiving notices by type of school is as follows:

While the overall picture is encouraging, there is no cause for complacency. A written asbestos management plan is a key requirement of the Regulations, but 51 schools (31%) had no written plan. Another area where there is considerable room for improvement is ensuring that in-house operatives undertaking building and maintenance work have received asbestos training; in the 80 schools where this was relevant, only 39 had received such training.

HSE is continuing to work with a number of the schools that were inspected to ensure that effective arrangements are put in place and maintained.

Findings/key messages

Set out below are key findings from the survey and the key messages arising from them.

Schools need to be aware of their duties under CAR

Overall the schools visited as part of the survey were aware of who the dutyholder was under the Regulations and who had the overall legal responsibility for management of maintenance and repair of the premises. However, there was still confusion in some schools over roles and responsibilities. Schools that bought back services from the local authority were often uncertain or unaware of their own duties and were reliant on the local authority. Even where schools buy in asbestos management expertise from local authorities, as happens with a number of voluntary-aided schools, the governing body as the employer retains the overall responsibility for health and safety issues, including asbestos management. The governing body needs to be aware of what is involved in the duty to manage asbestos and ensure that everyone whose work is liable to bring them into contact with ACMs has the appropriate competencies.

Key message

It is important that schools are clear on who the dutyholder is. The dutyholder is normally the employer. For academies, voluntary aided and foundation schools the employer will be the school's governing body. The proprietor is generally the employer in independent schools – or in some cases the governors or trustees.

All schools must have an asbestos management plan

104 schools (63% of the survey) had a written asbestos management plan. However, 51 schools (31%) had no written plan at all. In some schools, much of the information that would form part of the plan was held in the survey documentation. In some cases this was not as comprehensive, up to date or accessible as it should be. This was another area where some schools were reliant on a plan provided by the local authority.

Key message

Effective management of asbestos includes the statutory duty to have a written plan of the actions and measures necessary to manage the risks from ACMs. Schools should ensure that they have a site-specific asbestos management plan; if it has been drawn up by the local authority, the school management team needs to ensure that they are fully conversant with it and that where necessary they satisfy themselves that local knowledge has been incorporated.

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

115 out of 164 schools (70%) had a comprehensive system in place to ensure that anyone that may disturb ACMs is provided with information on any asbestos present. In 20 cases (12%) there was no system in place at all.

Not having a system in place, or operating a system with major gaps or flaws, is a major source of risk, as potentially anyone in a school can disturb ACMs, ie those undertaking building or maintenance work (in-house or contractors), other non-teaching staff, teachers, pupils and visitors.

Key message

It is critical that anyone who may disturb asbestos is made aware of its location and condition. Methods commonly used include a permit-to-work system, labelling ACMs clearly, and providing a plan with the locations of all ACMs marked on it.

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

In-house operatives undertook building and maintenance work in fewer than half the schools visited. Where those in-house operatives did undertake building and maintenance work, fewer than half of those schools (39 out of 80) had ensured that in-house operatives had received the appropriate level of asbestos training.

Key message

If in-house operatives' work could foreseeably expose them to asbestos, ie they may disturb asbestos while carrying out everyday tasks, they will require asbestos awareness training. If they purposely undertake maintenance tasks on ACMs (or presumed ACMs), so that the likelihood of exposure to asbestos is much higher, then they will need to have training for non-licensable asbestos work. It is the responsibility of dutyholders to ensure that adequate training is given to in-house staff. Equally dutyholders should ensure that they only hire contractors who are trained to a sufficient standard. More information is available in Work with materials containing asbestos.

Updated 2021-04-29