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What Should Schools Be Doing About Asbestos?
Posted by David Cant on September 2, 2013

asbestos surveys birminghamAs the schools prepare for the children to return after the long summer holiday (do I hear a cry of relief from the parents?) I thought it worthwhile to raise a subject that I have touched upon in the past, but this time to focus on the issue specifically from the point of view of schools, colleges and similar learning establishments: asbestos.

Assessing The Presence Of Asbestos In Schools

Asbestos is of course an extremely dangerous material, or at least the dust created when it fragments is extremely dangerous if inhaled. One of the last places you’d want to find asbestos is in the middle of a school. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where it is often found.

As an insulating and fire proofing material asbestos was used widely from the 1950s right up to the 1980s. However, many people don’t realise that even buildings constructed prior to 2000 could potentially include asbestos, and so it’s important to keep this firmly in mind.

One of the times when asbestos is most likely to be a risk is during either the demolition of a building, or the remodelling, extension or refurbishment of a building because it’s when asbestos is disturbed or fractured that it creates the airborne particles which are so harmful.

Unfortunately schools are renowned for disturbances and fracturing, from children messing about to teachers punching holes in walls with staplers or pins. Redecoration work is often squeezed in hurriedly during school holidays, and it’s vital to make sure that at every stage the presence of asbestos is ether assessed, monitored or kept very firmly in mind as a possibility.

It’s not just in the walls and ceilings either, with asbestos often being used in these locations as insulation. Many ‘system’ buildings built between 1950 and 1980 included asbestos as a fire proofing material in structural columns, which could be in the middle of a school, in a corridor, dining hall or classroom.

Who Is Responsible For Asbestos Safety In Schools?

Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states that anyone who has any responsibility for the maintenance or repair of any part of a school building is responsible for ensuring safety where the presence of asbestos is concerned.

However, the practical day to day responsibility actually goes much farther than this. A school necessarily receives a good many knocks and scrapes throughout a school year, and so all staff need to be aware of the potential dangers posed by damage to the fabric of a building. It is important that staff are aware of the danger, and know how to report such damage appropriately so that it can be assessed.

Whilst students are likely to damage the fabric of a building occasionally it’s also important that staff know not to push pins, nails or staples into walls for displays, or fix their own shelves or pictures using screws or hooks unless this is using proper notice boards.

Where Can Schools Get More Information Or Advice On Asbestos Safety?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published a detailed guide for schools called ‘Asbestos Management – Checklist for Schools’ which is free to download from here:

Anyone with any concerns or questions can also call Veritas Consulting free on 0800 1488 677. Professional and experienced Health and Safety Advisors will be able to discuss asbestos related issues or arrange for a site visit if required.


David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner extraordinaire. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the MD of Veritas Consulting. David also Blogs about Health and Safety here Health and Safety Consultants

His aim is to flavour Health and Safety with integrity, served with a side of humour You can find David on - Twitter and Google also Linkedin

This post has been filed in: Asbestos Surveys, Health and Safety Consultancy, Health and Safety Services, Workplace Safety


  1. Frank Berta
    September 2, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    To think or assert that a 1/4″ pushpin or staple leg into a wall is going to release asbestos dust is ludicrous.

    • September 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Hi Frank. thank for your comments. Asbestos is dangerous when disturbed right? so when teachers and children display posters, paintings etc secured to a wall (asbestos insulation board) with staples or similar disturbs asbestos right? when the staples are removed again this disturbs the Asbestos Board right. Therefore, Is it not reasonable to advise Schools against this sort of thing, or do you think it is acceptable?

  2. Shaun
    September 3, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    It may sound ludicrous but research studies argue that ” One fibre can kill”. Asbestos is only dangerous once it has been disturbed and therefore whilst I agree with Davids view, I must also point out that if a suitable and sufficient survey of the school site is undertaken and an asbestos management plan is then prepared and identified asbestos is either encapsulated or if possible removed i.e bakerlite toilet cisterns can be safely removed by a specialist company, then the school should be safe. Correct training on how to manage asbestos should be given to those who are responsible for the premises i.e controllers of premises such as site managers or estates staff. Regular inspections of identified asbestos must also be recorded and if any changes such as damage is found this must be recorded. Please refer to the Control of Asbestos Regs 2012 for more information.

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