With figures showing that asbestos is still not being managed enough across schools, Paul Beaumont, CEO of the Independent Asbestos Training Providers, shares some advice on what should be done
Today there remains a legal requirement to manage asbestos in all non-domestic premises throughout the UK. This requirement, although sometimes overlooked, can be achieved with minimal impact to the ongoing and daily operations to those premises, but it must be done right, and it must be done thoroughly.
Educational buildings, including schools, academies, colleges, and so on, have a need to observe this requirement as, by their nature, they are not domestic premises, although some that work in them, may feel that they do live there from time to time.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Regulation 4, states that the location, extent and amount of asbestos must be recorded and that the information must be made available to all those who may need it, this includes the emergency services. This requirement, first introduced in 2002, which became enforceable by 2004, is one that everyone needs to be aware of and most of all, compliant with.
The best was to manage asbestos is to first identify it. The best way to do this by commissioning an appropriate asbestos survey; normally this would be an Asbestos Management Survey. If however, you already know what asbestos you have and where it is, then this may be enough information. An Asbestos Management Survey would however assist you in identifying asbestos that could easily be encounter through the normal use of a building. By having this survey in place, the asbestos identified can be “managed”. It must however be noted that this level of survey and probably your own information is often not suitable for areas where works above that of general maintenance are being carried out. In such cases, a more involved and intrusive survey, aptly named, a Refurbishment Survey, should be carried out.
This level of survey would look deeper into the fabric of a building and encompass any areas where works are planned. By having this survey carried out well in advance of the proposed works, any asbestos located can be correctly dealt with which should remove any delay in the actual works programme commencing and prevent the accidental release of asbestos and help prevent exposure. When asbestos materials are correctly identified, the management of it becomes much easier. Without clear and thorough records of where asbestos is, materials can go unchecked, or if no records exist it may even mean that materials that are not asbestos are instead being managed as asbestos.
A failure to manage asbestos is often the cause of great problems. Asbestos that isn’t managed can easily become damaged or disturbed resulting in the potential exposure of the building occupants to fibres that can kill. There is also a potentially high cost involved in clearing up disturbed asbestos, not to mention the possible need to vacate the school while the works are being carried out.
Asbestos management can take various routes, it may be that any asbestos found can be left alone, it may be located out of the way in areas not normally accessed or where it would be difficult to interact with. Some asbestos may require repair and or
protection from damage or interaction and in some cases, its removal may be required. The key to whole process is management.
Once it is decided what will be done with the asbestos located, a schedule of review can be implemented. It must be noted, you do not need to re-survey premises providing the information provided is reliable. What you do need to do is set up a schedule for re-inspection and monitoring. This schedule is determined by the activities with in or around the area of the asbestos, the likelihood of disturbance and the risk presented to those who occupy or use the areas where the asbestos is located. If, for example you have asbestos in a little used store room or cupboard, your management option may be to leave it in place, have it sealed or protected.
A re-inspection of this area may then only be required every couple of years, whereas, a wall in a corridor may require much more frequent inspections and severe actions, such as removal.
Asbestos materials should be routinely monitored, care must be taken to ensure that situations such as water ingress, accidental and malicious damage are monitored. Where materials are seen to have deteriorated or become damaged, actions need to be taken.
Having an asbestos management plan will help decide what should be done and when. Registers of asbestos materials should kept up to date and where required, up dated to reflect any changes. Contractors visiting the premises and maintenance staff who are undertaking works need to be advised of the information contained within a register and made aware of its content.
The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has produced a document to assist Duty Holders in asbestos management, which can be accessed by visiting the HSE website and downloading HSG 264, the Survey Guide. This guide will not only assist in safe management of asbestos, but also provides information on how surveys are carried out, who should do them, what they should cover and what they should contain.
The DfE have also produced guidance for schools along with organisations such as JUAC (the Joint Union Asbestos Committee). All these guides have been produced to assist educational establishment along with other building duty holders to manage their asbestos.
Only through the correct and safe management can we ensure the safety of those who enter and use these premises.
It should also be pointed out that buildings built after the year 2000 should not contain asbestos. In such cases care would still need to be observed where old teaching materials and aids are used such as WWII gas masks, old Bunsen burner pads, older equipment such as kilns and ovens, as these may still be or contain asbestos. There is also a legal requirement to ensure people are provided with information, instruction and training for those who may encounter any asbestos. Asbestos exposure can lead to fatal conditions which are often not realised for decades following exposure. The UK is currently seeing around 5,500 deaths every year due to previous exposure to asbestos. Through correct and successful management, this figure can be reduced, rather than seeing it increase as the current trend suggests.
There is no cure for any of the asbestos related diseases; the best and certainly the most preferred option is to prevent the disease occurring by preventing exposure through good management.