Twenty schools have received improvement notices from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) because of their inadequate control of asbestos hazards.
The HSE undertook a schools inspection programme last year to check up on asbestos issues and has now published the results.
HSE inspected a sample of 153 non-local authority schools between April 2013 and January 2014. These included independent, voluntary aided and foundation schools, free schools and academies.
The majority of schools inspected (71%) required either no further action or were given straightforward, simple advice. However, 29% (44 schools) received written advice from HSE, and 13% (20 schools) were subject to enforcement action, in the form of improvement notices targeting the following issues:
No written asbestos management plan – 8 schools
Failure to undertake survey/assessment or an inadequate assessment of the presence of asbestos containing materials – 8 schools
Failure to effectively manage the risks or implement a suitable system to manage the risks from asbestos – 2 schools
Inadequate training and information for employees – 2 schools
The improvement notices set out a requirement for the schools to improve arrangements for managing asbestos. Enforcement action was taken over failures such as training staff and producing written management plans – not because staff or pupils were considered at significant risk of exposure, but because these are vital elements of the required control measures. The key group of personnel at risk from asbestos is tradespeople – particularly those undertaking maintenance activities. The HSE said that it was “vital that schools ensure that anyone who may disturb asbestos is made aware of its location and condition”.
Compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations in England, Scotland and Wales showed an overall improvement compared with that found in a similar survey and inspection programme of 164 schools outside local authority control in 2010/11 where 41 improvement notices were served on 28 schools.
Geoff Cox, the head of HSE’s public services sector, said: “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. 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”