Managing asbestos within schools/colleges is now more prominent than ever, due to the Government’s recent reminder in October 2020 of the responsibilities schools have, in particular the actions that they must take when construction works (upgrading, refurbishment or demolition) are being carried on the premises.

To assist you to remain asbestos compliant, we have put together an overview of what you need to be aware of, starting with your legal responsibilities.

What are the legal responsibilities schools and colleges face around asbestos?

All schools should have as part of their legal responsibilities to manage asbestos through The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, an asbestos management survey in place.

An asbestos management survey is a survey that identifies the location and presence of asbestos within a premises for the purposes of occupation and basic maintenance.

Typically, we advise the schools and colleges that we work with that an asbestos management survey should be periodically checked each year through an asbestos re-inspection survey. This is to ensure that the condition of any asbestos has not changed and if it has then it can be captured and dealt with in a timely manner.

Coinciding with an asbestos management survey, schools and colleges should also have an effective asbestos management plan in place. This is a document that details how an asbestos re-inspection would be completed, e.g. timescales, location of the asbestos and its condition, how the location and condition of any asbestos is communicated to those who are accessing the school that may be liable to disturbing e.g. contractors, teachers, visitors etc. and those that are responsible for it within the school – typically the head teacher and senior management team.

What schools and colleges need to be aware of during a construction or maintenance project?

If you are a school or college that is undertaking any a large scale construction project or just a small decorating refurbishment, you need to do two things:

  1. Evaluate the work that you are undertaking; and
  2. Check that your asbestos management survey is suitable e.g. the area of the works has been thoroughly checked for asbestos.

These two steps are key to any project, particularly if walls are going to be breached or anything of a destructive nature occurs, because there is a real life threatening risk that you could be disturbing asbestos that may not have been previously picked up on an asbestos management survey, because of accessibility issues.

This is particularly prominent on older buildings for instance where they may have been modified over the years; e.g. asbestos may have been skimmed over with plaster or new partitions may have been put in place that are hiding asbestos.

What can be done to ensure that building works within schools/colleges are taking into account asbestos?

An asbestos management survey is ideal for identifying asbestos in common locations that are easily exposed. However, to survey those areas that are not routinely assessed for instance due to poor access then a refurbishment survey is required, as this will make sure that all aspects of an area (walls, pipes etc.) that are going to be disturbed are checked for asbestos.

But an asbestos refurbishment survey takes time, and schools therefore need to be realistic about what the scope of work is. For example, clearly detailing what the level of destruction will be so that a surveyor can make sure that the area is surveyed in its entirety. This is often a stumbling block for most projects as this task is often seen as a tick box exercise where the true level of works is not communicated clearly, meaning that elements that may contain asbestos are missed – resulting in heavy financial and social penalties placed upon the school.

The recent case of a school being fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £13,000 in costs illustrates this. The school in this instance was found not to have carried out a full asbestos survey, despite asbestos being known to present.

To make sure that a full survey can be completed, the survey needs to be planned in advance for – e.g. making sure that all areas to the site are accessible and not obstructed with furniture or other objects.

As part of our best practice advice we recommend that any refurbishment surveys should be completed at the initial planning stage of a project. We state this because this will highlight in advance any areas that may take up time outside of the building works physically commencing. For instance, if licensed asbestos works are required, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) notification of the works will be needed in advance and these take 14 days to receive. Therefore, if you are only allocating works to be complete during school holidays you need to ensure that all of the required asbestos surveys and health and safety checks are completed in advance.

Failure to do so will result in projects being rushed, which will only lead to mistakes occurring. These mistakes as detailed above are costly and can often result in fines that are more than the budget of the works in the first place.

Finally, when the findings of the refurbishment survey come back, if any asbestos is present this does not automatically mean it needs to be removed. This is because removing asbestos can be an expensive task, especially if the asbestos is well ingrained within certain materials/fabrics. In these situations it may be necessary for the scope of the planned works to be modified to limit the danger and expense – e.g. working around the asbestos containing materials.

To help you to understand your school or colleges asbestos situation we are offering a complimentary 15 minute bespoke consultation and  provide you with a series of effective solutions that will assist you remaining legally compliant. If you would like to discuss the consultation more please click hereto get in touch with our asbestos team.