Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Latest on asbestos

Schools and colleges cannot be too careful when it comes to asbestos. The clearing of a primary head who was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive on a charge connected with asbestos removal should not encourage a false sense of security. The head stepped down; the governors and local authority have admitted guilt and are facing sentencing.

Although the local authority, as the owners of the building, and the governors as the 'tenant', had overall responsibility, the head was prosecuted because he had personally engaged the contractor to do work on the windows which exposed the asbestos.

An offence related to asbestos will always be liable to attract prosecution. ASCL members would do well to ensure that the responsibility for all repair or development work on the school site is absolutely clear. The local authority asset management plan should be checked for any reference to asbestos and an asbestos survey should be carried out and, if necessary, updated.

Asbestos is so common in older buildings that it should be assumed that any work is likely to reveal it. Asbestos was used in many ways, for ceiling tiles for instance. If old tiles are removed, it is best to assume that there will be asbestos until you have determined otherwise.

ASCL would recommend that, as part of any contract, exploratory work should be carried out in advance and any asbestos found reported to the school before any work is done.

Ideally, work would be done in the holidays. However, if it has to be done in term time, students should be out of the area even during exploratory work. If asbestos is found, a reliable contractor should be employed to remove it.

It would be sensible to ensure that all these procedures are on a check list so that compliance can be shown if anything goes wrong. It hardly needs saying that any asbestos articles must be removed completely from the school site. Failure to do so has in the past attracted unfavourable attention from the HSE.

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