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School fined £46,000 for asbestos failings

A secondary school in Chelmsford has been fined £26,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974. Failing to put a plan in place to manage asbestos in the school led to maintenance workers, staff and pupils being exposed to asbestos debris and dust.

Tom Forster of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) described a lack of asbestos awareness at the school, with no staff training on the issue and a “general failure of the school to manage asbestos.”

He also said that although there had been a management plan dating back to 2009, it was “generally ignored by the school.”

Dust and debris found in a classroom and store sheds

Asbestos residues had been found on walls in an old boiler room that was being converted into a cleaning store. School maintenance staff had unknowingly swept dust and debris from the room, and asbestos debris had also been placed in other parts of the school, including areas frequented by pupils.

A medical expert believed there had been no direct exposure to the children from the maintenance works, but those who were most at risk were the maintenance staff and contractors.

No asbestos awareness among school staff

Staff were largely unaware of the asbestos in their school, and its meaning for the health and safety of themselves and pupils. The head teacher appointed after the breach in health and safety quickly took steps to improve the situation, however, implementing “thorough and reliable” procedures for managing asbestos at the school.

A Premises Committee was established to oversee the asbestos management system, and this included carrying out surveys of the school buildings on a monthly basis. Several of the school’s staff have also received health and safety training.

Managing asbestos

So how is a dedicated asbestos management plan formulated, and what should it consist of? One of the first actions is to undertake a management survey to identify where asbestos is lying within a building. This should also determine the type of asbestos present, its condition, and the likelihood of fibres being released – also known as friability.

This information should be included:

  • The duty holder’s name and contact details
  • An asbestos register compiled using information from the survey
  • Any future plans for work on asbestos-containing materials (ACMs)
  • A schedule for monitoring any degradation or break-up of ACMs

The management plan can be paper-based or computerised, and should be easy for members of staff to access and update, and for contractors and tradespeople to examine prior to starting work on the buildings.

Complying with regulations

It’s reported to have cost the school over half a million pounds to bring their asbestos problem under control, and prevent further incidents of fibre release.

Asbestos in schools is a known issue throughout the UK, and given the age of some of these buildings, it represents a significant danger to staff and pupils if not taken seriously.