Summer holidays – the perfect time for asbestos surveys
The school holidays may mean a well-earned break for students and teachers, but behind the scenes the site team are often hard at work, preparing buildings and facilities for the new school year. And while the majority of the site’s users are away, it may be a good time to carry out vital asbestos surveys.
A real and present threat
Like so many buildings constructed before the turn of the millennium, schools typically have asbestos present in the walls, ceilings and in water pipe lagging. Fortunately, the risk of exposure remains relatively low so long as dust and materials containing asbestos remain undisturbed.
Yet despite the fact that there is a high degree of likelihood that these buildings do contain asbestos, some school head masters remain unaware of exactly where it is to be found. This ignorance means that staff and students may be placed at risk because the necessary handling protections are not being used when coming into contact with asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
A Chelmsford School learns a hard lesson
The recent case of The Boswells School in Chelmsford demonstrates how easy it is to make mistakes when the presence of asbestos goes unmonitored. A refurbishment project to convert an old boiler room into a cleaning store was found to have unknowingly disturbed asbestos residue contained in the walls.
Not realising the situation they were in, the site team swept up the contaminated debris from the floor and disposed of it without following any safe handling procedures. This “clean up” process further increased the spread of particulates and raised the risk of exposure for staff and students.
An investigation into the incident was triggered by an asbestos survey conducted after the refurbishment work had been completed. HSE inspectors discovered that there were ACMs present across the entire campus, and that similar projects had been undertaken in the past – all without suitable protection for the workers involved.
A heavy cost for failing a test
The academy trust responsible for managing The Boswell School later pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety Act 1974. They were fined £26,000 and ordered to pay a further £20,000 in costs.
As is so often the case, this incident could have been avoided completely with a little careful planning. The school had lacked an up-to-date asbestos survey for quite some time before the boiler room conversion project began. The fact that the site team was unaware of the presence of ACMs meant that the risks presented to staff and students could have been even worse.
Schools up and down the country are working hard to complete renovations ready for the start of the Autumn term. But for any head master who does not have an up-to-date asbestos survey, now is the ideal time to have one completed before their staff are placed in any more danger.
For more help and advice about managing asbestos site surveys in schools (or on any other site), please get in touch