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March 17, 2015

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Taking control of asbestos in schools

Asbestos in schools hit the news again this month, with claims that 86 per cent of UK schools contain asbestos, according to Freedom of Information data. But with the right management, asbestos does not need to be a cause for concern in any building, says Michael Grist, divisional managing director for Bureau Veritas.

With such a devastating consequences if not managed appropriately, asbestos is a subject which can inevitably strike fear into many organisations – and nowhere more so than the education sector, where asbestos was commonly specified throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s before it was eventually banned in 1999.

When the Coalition Government axed the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in 2010, many feared it would simply prolong the risk of exposure to asbestos in schools for pupils, teachers and support staff. TUC union officials in particular were quick to express concern in the aftermath of Michael Gove’s announcement.

The topic has resurfaced this week following the publication of findings by a campaign group, using findings from a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, which show 86 per cent of all schools in the UK contain asbestos – a staggering headline figure.

The key to staying in control is in effective management of ACMs. With the right processes in place, schools – or any building for that matter – do not always need to spend thousands of pounds on safe removal in order to meet regulations, eliminate risk and ensure the safety of teachers and pupils.

A typical compliance process for asbestos management follows three relatively straightforward steps; completion of an Asbestos Management Survey to identify the presence and nature of ACMs, maintaining an Asbestos Management Plan that details all the necessary arrangements with regards to asbestos on the premises, and finally the routine re-inspection of ACMs according to the relevant guidelines.

What do you need to know?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force in April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations to take account of the European Commission’s view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).

They set out the legal duties, while an Approved Code of Practice gives practical advice on how to comply with those requirements. The Regulations give minimum standards for protecting employees – and of course, in the education sector, pupils – from risks associated with exposure to asbestos.

Regulation 4 states that if you own, occupy, manage or have a responsibility for property, you have a legal duty to assess and manage the risk from asbestos containing material (ACM).

The compliance process

As an example, Bureau Veritas’s compliance process for asbestos management will always begin with an asbestos management survey, designed to locate, as far as is reasonably practicable, the presence and extent of any suspect ACM in the building and assess their condition.

Following completion of the site survey, a report will be produced which details the location, extend and product type of any suspected ACM, information on its accessibility and the relative ability of all suspected ACM to release fibres into the air.

An asbestos management plan will follow, designed by expert consultants, which is split into two phases. Firstly, a desktop study, which include working with the customer to formulate a management plan, prioritising the risk in each building and identifying training requirements for employees, enables a management strategy to be put in place. This is followed by a second phase, putting the recommendations in place – for example, an asbestos survey and re-inspection programme, and remediation programme if necessary.

Finally, guidance on the regulations states that an asbestos register should be updated annually. Once ACMs have been identified within the Asbestos Management Survey, one of the most important things to ensure continued safety and compliance is for experts to complete a basic check for deterioration or damage every year. The findings of this re-inspection can then be used to re-prioritise remedial works.

Michael Grist is divisional marketing director for Bureau Veritas, a leading provider of testing, inspection and certification services. Visit www.bureauveritas.co.uk for more information.

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