We have over 20 years' of experience.

247 asbestos services logo
  • Nationwide Coverage

  • 08:00 - 18:30

  • Monday to Saturday

teacher teaching in a school with concrete walls and pupils sitting listening
01 November 2023

By James

Category: Industry

Concerned About Asbestos in Schools? An Ongoing Challenge

Asbestos, a hazardous material associated with severe health risks, continues to be a significant concern in schools across the United Kingdom. Despite efforts to manage and eliminate asbestos, the problem persists in a large number of educational institutions. This article delves into the reasons behind asbestos usage in schools, its historical context, common locations, associated risks, and effective management strategies. We'll also shed light on the roles and responsibilities of duty holders and provide examples of ongoing asbestos issues in UK schools.

Asbestos in Schools: A Lingering Challenge

Asbestos is a mineral known for its exceptional properties, which is why it was used commercially in the UK for over a century until November 1999. Asbestos fibres were incorporated into various building materials, extensively used in the construction and renovation of many structures, including schools across the UK. The banning of asbestos was prompted by the devastating health risks associated with its usage, as exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to both cancerous and non-cancerous effects.

One of the issues with asbestos in schools is that it's a unique setting due to the presence of children who are more susceptible to asbestos exposure than adults. A grave concern arises from the fact that asbestos is found in more than 75% of Britain's schools, and a significant portion of it is aged and deteriorating. Over 14,000 schools were built between 1945 and 1975, the peak period of asbestos use, and many of these schools contain asbestos insulating board products.

It's alarming to note that Britain has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world, surpassing countries like France, Germany, or the USA. The gravity of this situation is underscored by the fact that more people are succumbing to asbestos-related diseases than to road accidents, with asbestos-related deaths on the rise even as road fatalities decrease.

Why Was Asbestos Used in Schools?

The period from the 1950s to the 1980s witnessed the widespread use of asbestos in school construction, driven by its cost-effectiveness and durability. Asbestos was employed for insulation, fireproofing, and various building materials such as ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, and cement products. Its fire-retardant properties, capacity to reduce energy costs, and resilience to fire, heat, and chemicals made it an attractive choice for school construction.

What is the History of Asbestos in our Schools

Asbestos in schools has a long and intricate history intertwined with the broader industrial use of the material during the 20th century. Understanding this history is pivotal in addressing the persistent challenges posed by asbestos in educational institutions today.

Used Widely in the Construction Industry Last Century

Throughout the mid-20th century, asbestos was extensively used in constructing buildings, including schools. It was often referred to as the "miracle mineral" due to its durability, cost-effectiveness, resistance to fire, heat, and chemicals, as well as its sound-absorbing properties and tensile strength. As a result, asbestos was a favoured material for construction purposes, including insulation, ceiling tiles, and cement products, which were frequently employed in school buildings.

The usage of asbestos in school construction was especially widespread between the 1950s and 1980s. Schools built or renovated during this era are likely to contain asbestos materials. It is estimated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that approximately 75% of schools in England still contain some form of asbestos.

In 1985, the UK government recognised the health risks linked to asbestos and banned the use of the most perilous types, blue and brown asbestos (crocidolite and amosite). However, the use of white asbestos (chrysotile), which was mistakenly considered less harmful, persisted until 1999 when a total ban on all asbestos types was imposed.

The is Still a Big Asbestos Problem!

In spite of the bans implemented to restrict asbestos use, a significant legacy issue persists. Numerous schools, constructed or renovated prior to these prohibitions, still incorporate asbestos-containing materials. The extended latency period associated with asbestos-related diseases implies that individuals exposed during the peak years of asbestos utilisation continue to face risks.

In recent times, there has been a growing public apprehension regarding the presence of asbestos in schools and its potential threat to students and school personnel. Various reports have emphasised the prevalent existence of asbestos in UK schools, underscoring the lack of a systematic approach to its management and removal. This concern has prompted appeals for the development of a comprehensive national strategy to tackle the issue of asbestos in schools.

The history of asbestos in educational institutions serves as a vivid reminder of the enduring consequences of past industrial practices. The current challenge revolves around effectively managing and mitigating the risks posed by the existing asbestos materials to ensure the safety of succeeding generations.

Where can you Find Asbestos in a School?

Asbestos is present in various locations within schools, a fact common to many public and local authority buildings. In schools, asbestos can be found in:

  • 1. Textured Coatings and Tiles
  • 2. Pipes, Boilers, and Ducts Insulation Materials
  • 3. Roof Sheets and Wall Panels
  • 4. Adhesives and Floor Tiles
  • 5. Door Seals and Windows

In Schools, When Was Asbestos Actually Banned?

The utilisation of blue and brown asbestos was prohibited in 1985, followed by the complete ban on white asbestos in 1999. Nevertheless, asbestos-containing materials installed before the ban can still be found in many schools.

With Regards to Asbestos Does My School Have It?

It is highly likely that schools constructed or refurbished before 2000 contain asbestos materials. To ascertain whether your school contains asbestos, you should look at your school's plan for asbestos management or get in touch with the asbestos duty holder.

What are the Risks Posed by Asbestos in our Schools?

The presence of asbestos in schools poses a significant health hazard when its fibres become airborne and are subsequently inhaled. This typically occurs during activities such as renovation or maintenance work in a school when asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are disturbed or damaged. Accidental damage to asbestos materials, particularly those not clearly identified or adequately protected, can release fibres into the air. There is a risk of exposure to these airborne fibres for children, teachers, and school staff if ACMs are not properly managed. Given the bustling nature of schools with lively children and constant activity, the potential for accidental damage and disturbance to asbestos materials is considerable.

Asbestos exposure is linked to various lung diseases, including asbestosis, a chronic lung ailment resulting from inhaling asbestos fibres. Asbestosis leads to lung scarring, difficulty breathing, and heart failure. Additionally, asbestos exposure is associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer affecting the linings of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. The World Health Organisation recognises no safe level of asbestos exposure, with children being particularly vulnerable due to the extended latency period and their increased likelihood of inhaling fibres due to higher breathing rates.

School staff, including teachers and maintenance workers, are also at risk. A 2012 report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicated that teachers were over five times more likely to develop mesothelioma compared to other professions. Similarly, maintenance staff, who may come into contact with asbestos more frequently, face greater risks. Therefore, effective asbestos management in schools is crucial to safeguard students, staff, and the broader community from these potentially life-threatening health risks.

Why Are Children Particularly Vulnerable?

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of asbestos exposure in schools for several reasons:

  • 1. Longer Life Expectancy: ADiseases associated with asbestos often exhibit a prolonged latency period, wherein symptoms may not manifest until 20 to 50 years after exposure. Given that children typically have a longer life expectancy than adults, their risk of developing asbestos-related diseases during their lifetime is elevated if exposed at a young age.
  • 2. Breathing Rates are Higher: Children breathe faster than adults, resulting in a higher intake of airborne material, and the includes asbestos fibres.
  • 3. More Time for Damage: Children's cells divide more quickly than those of adults, rendering them more susceptible to damage from carcinogens. Furthermore, because children's bodies are still growing and developing, the damage caused by asbestos can have a more profound impact.
  • 4. Active and Curious Nature: Children, especially young ones, are naturally curious and active. This conduct might result in them unintentionally disrupting materials containing asbestos, lacking awareness of the associated hazards.
  • 5. The Likelihood of Secondary Exposure: Children can also face secondary exposure to asbestos. For example, if a family member works in an environment with asbestos and brings home asbestos fibres on their clothing, children in the household could inhale these fibres.

The convergence of these factors underscores the heightened vulnerability of children to the dangers of asbestos in schools, emphasising the critical need for effective asbestos management planning in the environments where they spend most of their school day.

How to Manage Asbestos in Schools

Effectively managing asbestos in schools is a continuous and crucial task to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors. This comprehensive process involves several key components:

1. Identification: The initial step in asbestos management involves identifying its presence through a thorough asbestos survey conducted by a qualified professional. This survey determines the location, type, and condition of any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) within the school.

2. Asbestos Management Plan: Once asbestos is identified, schools are legally required to have an asbestos management plan. This plan outlines the location and condition of asbestos and details how it will be managed. Regular updates are essential, especially in the event of changes to the building's use, structure, or the discovery of additional asbestos.

3. Adequate Staff Training: All school staff should receive training on the dangers of asbestos, its potential locations in the school, and the appropriate actions to take if they suspect encountering it. Maintenance staff, in particular, should be aware of areas containing asbestos to avoid disturbing it during their work.

4. Regular Inspections: Periodic inspections of ACMs should be conducted to monitor their condition. If materials are found to be deteriorating or damaged, prompt measures should be taken to repair or remove them.

5. Controlled Removal and Repair of Asbestos: When asbestos poses a risk due to deterioration or damage, it must be removed. As asbestos removal can be hazardous, licensed professionals should perform this task following strict guidelines set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

6. Communication: Information regarding asbestos presence and the management plan should be communicated to all staff members, contractors, subcontractors, and workers. In some cases, parents and students may also need to be informed. This ensures everyone is aware of potential risks and the steps being taken to manage them.

7. Keeping Good Records: Schools should maintain detailed records of asbestos management activities. This includes the initial survey report, results of regular inspections, details of asbestos removal, and any incidents of asbestos exposure.

The primary goal of managing asbestos in schools is to minimise the risk of exposure. While it may not always be necessary to remove asbestos—sometimes it is safer to leave it undisturbed—proper management and monitoring of ACMs in schools are crucial. This commitment involves regular checks, maintenance, and updating the asbestos management plan as needed.

Asbestos in Schools Survey

Conducting regular surveys by qualified professionals is crucial to assess the presence and condition of asbestos in schools. There are three types of surveys designed for specific purposes:

Management Survey:

  • This is a standard survey aimed at identifying and assessing the condition of asbestos-containing materials.
  • The survey is instrumental in developing an effective asbestos management plan.

Refurbishment Survey:

  • This survey is more comprehensive and is conducted before any refurbishment work begins.
  • It identifies all asbestos-containing materials in the specific area where the refurbishment is planned, ensuring their safe removal.

Demolition Survey:

  • This is an extensive survey conducted before any demolition work commences.
  • The survey identifies all asbestos-containing materials in the entire building or a designated part of it before demolition, guaranteeing their safe removal.

These surveys serve distinct purposes, providing valuable information for tailored asbestos management strategies based on the specific needs and circumstances of the school environment.

The School's Responsibility:

The management of asbestos in schools is a shared responsibility among school management, local authorities, and school governors. Collaboration among these entities is essential to ensure effective asbestos management, prioritising the safety of both staff and students against potential exposure..

Asbestos Duty Holder in Schools:

The duty holder, assigned with overseeing property maintenance and repair, plays a pivotal role in managing asbestos-related risks within a school. The duty holder may be the headteacher, school governors, or the local authority, depending on the school's organisational structure. It falls upon the duty holder to guarantee the school's compliance with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulations and adherence to the asbestos management plan, thereby securing the well-being of the entire school community.

Secure a Fast, No Obligation Quote Today

If you have concerns about asbestos in your school or educational institution, do not hesitate to contact us. Our expert team is ready to provide a fast, no-obligation quote tailored to your specific requirements. Your safety is our top priority, and we are here to support you in managing asbestos effectively in your school.

Do You Have A Question?

Then please contact us, we would love to hear from and give any advice that you may need. The information you supply us will be kept in the strictest confidence and will not be passed on to any third parties

Read More