Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Health and safety update

caution sign


There has been a flurry of news on asbestos in schools and colleges this year, including the successful prosecution of heads who have failed to employ properly qualified asbestos removal firms.

All maintained schools should have an assessment of the known asbestos risk in the buildings as part of the initial asset management plan carried out by the local authority. This should be the starting point to ensure that the asbestos risk is properly evaluated and that steps are taken to deal with it.

It is particularly important that where asbestos is deemed to be safe as long as it is undisturbed, checks for disturbance or deterioration are made regularly. Old pipes, old notice boards, old ceiling tiles, and packing round windows are all particularly suspect.

Similarly, where alterations to premises are being carried out, an asbestos assessment needs to be carried out before the work begins. Selfridges in London had to shut some of their display windows earlier this year when asbestos was found as part of alterations and the Houses of Parliament are also due to be shut
for asbestos removal.

Failure to deal with asbestos properly may lead to prosecution and the successful pursuit of claims against the school for failing to prevent long-term exposure to the hazard.

Wet floors

Sometimes things are obvious. If a corridor floor is to be washed, it should be done at a time when there is less chance of people slipping. In a recent case a boarding school decided to have a corridor cleaned before 6 pm. Someone slipped and fell, injuring herself. Had they waited, the corridor would have been less busy if not wholly unused.

The court in these cases asks whether the school balanced "the known risk against the effort and expense of eliminating it or reducing it." It decided that the school did not explore the possibilities of cleaning the floor later.

This may seem to have little relevance to day schools but with the growth of extended activities members may wish to check that there has been a reconsideration of cleaning rotas to ensure that people and wet floors do not come into contact with each other. It can be expensive.

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