Over 150 schools have now been identified as having Reinforced Autoclave Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in their buildings. Law firm Fieldfisher LLP offers legal advice on the ramifications.
Following the collapse of a concrete beam previously deemed low risk, many schools are closing all or part of their facilities delaying the start of the school term among fears they may be unsafe.
What is RAAC?
RAAC is a form of concrete which was used across public buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s. Made using a combination of cement, lime, water, and an aeration agent, RACC was cheaper and lighter than traditional concrete, while also being easier to produce and install during construction.
Part of the issue with RAAC is its limited durability and that internal corrosion and deterioration occurs without visible indication. Exposure to moisture can also cause structural failures. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned that all of the RAAC concrete used in the 1990s may collapse with little to no indication of there being issues.
The legal ramifications
The government has committed that schools will not foot the bill for repairing the RAAC affected areas, however they have confirmed that it will take until December to inspect all 600 potentially affected schools and then many weeks after that to effect repairs. There is an ongoing responsibility for the schools and the government to protect the children and the staff at the school.
The Health and Safety at Work (etc) Act 1974 (HSAWA) imposes a duty on employers to protect the health and safety of their employees, and people who are not employees but who would otherwise be affected by the employer’s activities and operations. Breaches of these provisions can give rise to criminal investigations and penalties.
The HSE have recently stated in their annual general meeting that issues around RAAC in hospitals and schools can give rise to serious breaches of the HSAWA and that employers are not engaging with them on this appropriately. Whilst these buildings are largely government-owned, there are buildings in the private sector that contain RAAC and will need to be dealt with.
HSE have stated that owners or managers of estates should identify the presence of RAAC and seek specialist advice to assess it and development management plans.
Andrew Sanderson, Partner and Head of the Health and Safety team at law firm Fieldfisher LLP noted that: “Any building constructed between the 1950s and 1990s may contain RAAC, and building owners should consider surveying properties from this period to identify if RAAC is present. Once RAAC is identified, sufficient risk assessments should be undertaken to identify issues arising from this.”
Andrew further noted that: “responsibility for the health and safety of individuals within these buildings does not solely rely on the owner of these properties either, and events operators should consider their own risk assessments when operating in spaces identified as containing RAAC. Robustly considering risk can help to prevent incidents, as well as contribute to showing that reasonably practicable steps were taken to protect the health and safety of individuals during any investigation and enforcement action taken by the HSE”.
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