Health and Safety Executive (UK)

Monitoring the asbestos threat in UK schools

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Source: Health and Safety Executive (UK)

In autumn 2006, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that there was the potential for asbestos fibres to be released in particular circumstances in CLASP (system built) schools. HSE therefore,took immediate and positive action, advising all relevant dutyholders to visually check their CLASP (system built) school buildings and, where necessary, to seal gaps in column casings using silicone sealant and tape. This simple solution has been shown to prevent asbestos fibres escaping into classrooms.

The three local authority employers’ organisations (England, Scotland, Wales) have surveyed local authorities and received positive reports of action.  

HSE also set up a stakeholder working group to share information on this matter and to produce guidance. In addition, HSE inspectors targeted particular dutyholders to check that our advice had been followed. Some of these checks resulted in Improvement Notices being served but in the majority we found that dutyholders had followed our advice. 

As soon as HSE were alerted to conditions at Hay Lane School, an inspector made a site visit.  The London Borough of Brent identified all the remedial work required to meet HSE’s guidance for system built schools.  This was carried out by licensed asbestos contractors during the weekend before Hay Lane Special School opened for the new term (January 2008). 

Re-assurance air sampling involving disturbance was carried out at Hay Lane School after the remedial work and was found to be satisfactory.  Sampling was also carried out to see whether asbestos was present in the ceiling void and test results were negative. 

Further discussions took place with Brent Council about the management of asbestos in other schools under their control and HSE took appropriate enforcement action. 

HSE's advice is that asbestos in good condition, and not likely to be damaged, is better left in place and managed.   Asbestos in poor condition, or which is likely to be damaged or disturbed, should be repaired, sealed, enclosed or removed. If people are unsure of the condition of asbestos then specialist advice should be obtained.

HSE has been given information from the ITN survey and will carry out further checks as appropriate.

CLASP stands for Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme. It provided standard system buildings for a variety of public sector uses but particularly schools. The nature of the construction of buildings erected between 1945 and 1980 included asbestos containing materials, partly recorded as part of the original design. The programme is now managed by Scape System Build Ltd, which was able to provide information on those organisations that had originally installed them. It is estimated that there are 1400 sites with CLASP built schools. 

Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in Great Britain from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of different purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. Any type of building built before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc.) could contain asbestos. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless the asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when the materials are damaged.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006 require dutyholders to properly manage asbestos.

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