As the UK Government pledges over £2bn for upgrades and repairs to schools and colleges in England this year, Bureau Veritas is urging educational institutions to address the ongoing risks associated with asbestos.

In April, the Government announced it will invest £1.4bn in buildings and facilities for schools as it aims to reach its target of one million new pupil places by the end of 2020. In addition, further funding was announced in June as part of a ten-year ‘transformative rebuilding programme’, of which £760mn is to be spent this year to upgrade and repair schools and further education colleges.

It is estimated that around 86% of UK schools contain asbestos and according to the National Education Union, since 1980 at least 363 school teachers have died from mesothelioma – the most serious and incurable form of asbestos related cancer – with 249 of these passing away since 2001. As a result of being exposed to asbestos as a pupil in school, around 200-300 people die each year as adults from mesothelioma.1

Asbestos fibre release becomes a potential risk to health when it is disturbed, damaged or poorly maintained. Uncontrolled repair or construction work has contributed to the rising cases of mesothelioma.

According to leading health and safety authority Bureau Veritas, it is therefore vital that schools investigate their asbestos risk ahead of any planned refurbishment or renovation works and that it is properly managed, for the benefit of current and future generations of teachers and pupils.

Anthony Flynn, Technical Asbestos Manager at Bureau Veritas, comments: “The recent Government funding announcements will be welcomed by schools and colleges across England, as many look to update their old-fashioned or inefficient buildings.

“With this though comes a responsibility for duty holders to ensure asbestos risk is a top priority when conducting repairs to the fabric of the building. Especially at a time when schools are undergoing changes to manage their coronavirus risks, and therefore may be considering significant maintenance works – the importance of effectively managing asbestos cannot be overlooked.”

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012) places duties on those responsible for the management of asbestos in schools and for staff or others working in the premise who need to know about the asbestos and how they can contribute to its effective management. For academies, free schools, voluntary-aided and foundation schools, the duty holder will be the school governors or the trust, while for independent schools, it may be the proprietor, governors or trustees.

Anthony continues: “Many schools planning works will likely have been built prior to the year 2000, and as such, it’s highly likely they will have been built with Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs). While these may sit deep in the walls or ceilings undetected for decades, when disturbed or damaged through construction works, ACMs can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people may breathe them in.

“Ahead of any planned construction works or refurbishment in school buildings, especially those that pre-date 2000, it is vital that a Management Survey is completed, which will identify what type of ACMs are present and where they are. If managed carefully, the presence of asbestos in schools will not pose a risk to staff and pupils, however, poor management of asbestos could endanger lives. Thus, taking the time now to invest in asbestos management is vital.”

Bureau Veritas is a leading testing, inspection and certification body which offers a comprehensive range of services to help businesses and organisations, including awareness training for duty holders, the requirements under CAR 2012 in relation to understanding and implementing an asbestos management plan and crucially keeping it up to date. This includes building surveys, annual re-inspections, project management of asbestos remediation, site risk assessments, air monitoring, four stage clearance air testing, laboratory sample analysis, management plans and training – all of which can be undertaken within school holidays.

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