Asbestos crisis in UK schools

Last Updated on June 27, 2017 by

Asbestos crisis in UK schools

In 2010 HSE carried out inspections on 164 randomly selected non-local authority schools in England, Scotland and Wales.

As a result, 28 of the schools (17%) were served with a total of 41 Prohibition Notices:

Fifty one schools (31%) had no written plan for managing asbestos and HSE observed the need for considerable improvement in the training of school employees undertaking building and maintenance work.

Out of 80 schools where this was an issue, 41 had not received training.

Repeat Inspection was carried out

A repeat inspection of a further 153 randomly selected schools in April 2013 and January 2014 showed some improvement with a drop to 13% issued with Prohibition Notices (from 17%).

More recently still, between January 2016 and 31st March 2016, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) sent out an online survey to all schools in England.

The questions aimed to assess each school’s asbestos management.

Each school completing the survey received an automatically generated email giving tailored advice to the school depending on its response to the form.

In theory, the exercise was a good way of getting schools to think about asbestos management.

Unfortunately, 75% thought that they would not respond.

Of the 255 that did respond, the survey revealed that:-

Survey revealed mixed results

At first glance 80% of schools indicating good asbestos management seems impressive.

But of course, this was out of the 25% that responded.

In other words, only 20% of the total reported good management.

It must also be borne in mind, in the words of the report, that the results are unlikely to be “representative of the full schools estate.”

In other words, those schools better at asbestos management are more likely to respond.

Schools giving “significant cause for concern” were given feedback from the survey and their responsible bodies were informed.

These bodies were asked to provide evidence that they had taken remedial action.

The EFA contacted standalone or small Academy Trusts directly.

A step in the right direction

This survey was clearly a step in the right direction.

It identified a shortcomings and steps were taken to encourage failing schools to improve their asbestos management.

But should it have more teeth?

John McClean of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee thinks that it should.

He says, “The survey should have been mandatory and we felt that the HSE should have carried out reactive inspections on schools not responding to the survey.  The HSE have said that they would consider this and if necessary put it into the 2018/19 plan.”

Certainly, the HSE inspections and EFA surveys have highlights that risk management in the education sector still has a way to go in order to achieve full compliance.  But is full compliance enough?

“A child exposed for the first time at the age of five,” says Occupational Hygienist, Robin Howie, “will have about a five times greater chance of mesothelioma at the age of eighty than his teacher exposed for the first time at the age of thirty.   This is because child’s greater potential life expectancy will allow more time for mesothelioma to develop.”

Greater risk to children than adults

The child’s risk will also exceed the level of risk that the HSE define as acceptable, namely risk of one excess death per million per year.

In this respect, Robin Howie is particularly concerned about the risk to children living in public housing and attending schools that both contain ACM.

He says that pre-school children living in public housing that contains crocidolite in good condition are at 200 times the risk level defined by the HSE as “acceptable”.

For children exposed to ACMS in good condition at home and in school the risk is about 100 times the acceptable level, falling to a still unacceptable 40 times the “acceptable” level for children exposed at school only.

Source of article:-  RoSPA Journal, June 2017.

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their building so as not to put employees at risk. Contact our Armco office for asbestos management and refurbishment/ demolition surveys on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting

Alternatively, to book onto one of our asbestos training courses, please call 0161 761 4424 or visit 



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Published Jun 27, 2017

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