Local councils satisfy HSE on asbestos management in schools
An HSE survey and follow-up inspection initiative has revealed that 72 per cent of councils in England are managing asbestos in their ‘system-build’ schools in accordance with the appropriate procedures.
A common feature of system-build schools, many of which were constructed between 1945 and 1980, is that structural columns were fire-proofed with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and enclosed by metal casings, or cladding.
To assess how well local authorities in England are meeting their legal obligations on managing asbestos in such schools, the HSE carried out an online questionnaire. Of the 152 councils in England that have responsibility for providing education, 110 satisfied the HSE, via their answers to the survey, that they have systems in place to comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
The remaining 42 local authorities were visited by HSE inspectors to ensure that they were also managing the risks from asbestos. These inspections resulted in 32 councils being given further advice about practical improvements and 10 authorities receiving enforcement notices to improve asbestos-management standards − covering issues such as training and the need to provide information for tradespeople carrying out work on school premises.
Commenting on its findings, head of the HSE’s public-services sector, Rosalind Roberts, said: “We are satisfied that most local authorities were taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to managing asbestos in system-build schools.
“Where local authorities had fallen below acceptable standards, we took action to secure improvements. There are key lessons for the whole education sector. Those responsible for managing asbestos must be properly trained and management plans, which set out the measures to be taken to manage the risks, must be in place and readily available.”
However, the findings jar with those of a pilot study of 12 schools carried out earlier this year by the Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association (ATAC). According to the organisation, its assessment revealed a lack of clarity between local authorities and schools over who is legally the duty-holder responsible for managing asbestos, and claimed that training on asbestos in schools is poor to non-existent.
Asbestos in Schools (AiS) safety campaigner, Michael Lees, stands by the ATAC report and believes the HSE’s findings include substantial evidence of non-compliance among schools.
He said: “This new HSE report highlights that many schools and local authorities are still not safely managing their asbestos and underlines the urgent need for all the schools and authorities in the country that are not adequately protecting their occupants from the dangers of asbestos to be identified, and then brought up to a safe standard.
€ﾨ€ﾨ“The previous Government recognised that measures have to be taken to improve the asbestos management in schools by establishing an expert steering group under the Department for Education to recommend practical measures that will achieve this. The Coalition Government has not yet confirmed that the steering group will continue. This report shows that it is essential that it does.”
The HSE’s report highlights a number of key actions for local authorities, including:
- Ensure that contractors have provided asbestos awareness training for their workforce;
- Check that where asbestos management functions are delegated to site personnel those staff are trained and competent for the role; and
- Check that site-specific asbestos-management plans are in place, and that these consider ongoing maintenance and refurbishment work and how to deal with unplanned ‘emergency’ work, such as damage caused by burst pipes.
The survey and inspection programme were carried out in conjunction with the Department for Education (DfE). A similar initiative will be undertaken between October and March 2011 to check that those schools that fall outside local-authority control are also complying with the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
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