I learned today that 20 schools in the UK have recently received improvement notices from the Health & Safety Executive because of their inadequate control of asbestos hazards.
Last year the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) undertook a schools inspection programme to check up on asbestos issues and it has now published the results. The HSE inspected a random sample of 153 non-local authority schools between April 2013 & 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.
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 but this was not because staff or pupils were considered at significant risk of exposure to asbestos. It was because these are vital elements of the required control measures.
The key group of personnel at risk from asbestos is tradespeople; particularly workers undertaking maintenance activities. The HSE has made it clear that schools should ensure that anyone who may disturb asbestos during maintenance programmes is made aware of its location and condition.
A similar HSE survey and inspection programme of 164 schools outside local authority control took place in 2010/11. This year’s results show an overall improvement compared with the previous study, indicating that awareness of requirements has increased since the previous HSE initiative.
The head of HSE’s Public Services Sector, Geoff Cox said that schools should not be under any illusion. Managing asbestos requires on-going attention and schools now have access to a wealth of guidance setting out clear and straightforward steps to achieve and maintain compliance. Where they don’t, enforcement action will continue to be taken.
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