More than one in 10 non-local authority controlled schools faced enforcement action for failing to meet adequate asbestos management standards during a recent HSE inspection initiative.
A further 15% of the 153 independent, voluntary aided and foundation schools, free schools and academies inspected across the country between April 2013 and January 2014 received written advice from HSE on managing asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
Of the 20 improvement notices served on the schools, eight were for failing to have a written asbestos management plan; eight for a failure to undertake an adequate survey of asbestos; two due to a failure to implement a suitable system to manage the risks from asbestos; and two for inadequate training and information for employees.
But according to HSE statisticians, dutyholders’ awareness of their legal responsibilities was 9% higher than during the last inspection programme run in 2010/11. The vast majority – some 95% – of schools had a full or broad understanding of the requirements of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
By contrast, in 2010/11 164 schools outside local authority control were inspected and 41 improvement notices were served on 28 schools.
“Over the last few years there has been a lot of work by stakeholders across the school sector to raise awareness of the duty to manage asbestos,” said Geoff Cox, the head of HSE’s public services sector. “It is really encouraging to see that awareness of the requirements has increased since our previous inspection initiative.
“That said, schools should not be under any illusion – managing asbestos requires ongoing attention. Schools now have access to a wealth of guidance setting out clear and straightforward steps to achieve and maintain compliance.
“Where duty holders fall below acceptable standards, HSE has taken, and will continue to take, enforcement action”
According to HSE, the inspection initiative revealed a number of common themes in those cases where schools were falling short of the requirements. In four key messages HSE recommends schools should:
- Ensure their records are up to date: 85% of the schools HSE visited had carried out an asbestos management survey. In some schools, however, the records were not up to date or did not include all the buildings. Where refurbishment work had been undertaken in some of the schools that had recently become academies, the asbestos register did not always reflect current information about presence, location and condition of ACMs
- Have an asbestos management plan: the regulations require dutyholders to have a written plan of the actions and measures necessary to manage the risks from ACMs. 77% of the schools visited had an asbestos management plan, a 14% improvement on 2010/11
- Ensure in-house employees undertaking building and maintenance work have received adequate asbestos training: among the schools where in-house staff were engaged in such work, 63% have training in place, a 14% improvement on 2010/11
- Have a system to inform anyone who may disturb ACMs of the presence of asbestos: just over half of the schools inspected (54%) had a comprehensive system in place to ensure that anyone who may disturb ACMs would be provided with information on any asbestos that may be present. This reflected only a slight increase on the findings for 2010/11 (50%).
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the findings demonstrated the need to bring back proactive inspections of schools.
“This report demonstrates that significant numbers of schools are still not safely managing their asbestos. The fact that 13% of these schools were served with a formal improvement notice is extremely worrying, particularly if that picture was reflected more widely across all schools.
“Of even greater concern is the finding that nearly half (46%) of the schools visited did not have a comprehensive system in place to ensure that anyone who may disturb asbestos – this could be staff or contractors – is told of its presence.
“It is clear that some schools are struggling to meet their legal requirements to manage asbestos safely. Academies, free schools and other independent schools, which cannot rely upon local authority support, are particularly vulnerable.
“Against this background the NUT calls for the re-introduction of pro-active HSE inspections of schools, which were abandoned in 2011. Without these inspections there is no safety net to pick up instances of poor management that expose staff and pupils to risk. There is also no wider intelligence about the success or otherwise of the Government’s policy on the management of asbestos in schools.
“The longer the issue remains unaddressed, the more people will be exposed. What is needed is a long-term strategy aimed at eradicating the problem once and for all.”
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