At prosecution hearings of contractors or duty holders for failing to observe the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006, it is regularly found that there is either a lack of asbestos awareness to the very real health risks involved in directly handling the material, a breakdown in communication or simply no asbestos surveys undertaken at all before works commence.

However, there are occasions when it appears that despite asbestos surveys being carried out and repeated warning notifications, no action is taken whatsoever to protect a building’s occupants against asbestos exposure. The health danger is significantly more critical when the building involved happens to be located in a school environment with the potential of exposure to pupils, teachers and school workers.

The most recent case of asbestos found in a school concerns Thurrock Council who failed to not only manage the asbestos found in a Junior School under their authority in Grays, Essex but also to respond to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). An asbestos survey had previously found evidence of the deadly fibres in the dust and debris in the school boiler room, which required immediate removal by licensed contractors.

However, a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) inspection of local authority asbestos management in schools carried out six years later discovered that no action had been taken. A Prohibition Notice was served to stop entry to the boiler house (by school staff) until it was made safe and a further two Improvement Notices were served on the council over the management of asbestos in schools elsewhere under its authority.

The long history of asbestos in schools nurseries and colleges goes back to the 1940s at least, when rapid post war reconstruction saw many thousands of buildings quickly constructed using asbestos insulation building materials, including wallboards, ceiling and floor tiles and exterior roofing. The use of cement-based products made with asbestos fibres was widespread, especially in the building of boiler rooms, which could also contain asbestos pipe lagging and sprayed roof insulation.

Despite asbestos being banned in the mid 1980s and many school buildings renovated over the following decades, there still exists many schools and other public buildings where asbestos is present and a potential health risk unless correctly removed or managed. According to compliance checks conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) between November 2010 and June 2011, around 17 per cent of those schools surveyed were unable to produce and show inspectors asbestos management plans or neglected to provide adequate staff training.

Between 1980 and 2005, more than 270 deaths from mesothelioma were recorded as a result of asbestos exposure in schools, of which, just over 100 occurred between 2001 and 2005, including teaching or childcare assistants, school caretakers, secretaries, cooks and cleaners, etc.

Thurrock Council was fined a total of £50,326, including costs, after pleading guilty to breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR 2006) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

According to Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006:
– Every employer must ensure that any employee is given adequate information, instruction and training where that employee is or is liable to be exposed to asbestos, or if that employee supervises such employees.
– Every employer shall prevent the exposure of his employees to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable.