The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published the results of its latest asbestos in schools inspection initiative, which took place in 2013/14.

HSE inspected a carefully selected random sample of 153 non-local authority schools between April 2013 and January 2014, which included independent, voluntary aided and foundation schools, free schools and academies.

The majority of schools inspected (71 per cent) required either no further action or were given straightforward, simple advice. However, 29 per cent (44 schools) received written advice from HSE, and 13 per cent (20 schools) were subject to enforcement action, in the form of improvement notices.

The improvement notices set out a requirement for recipient schools to improve arrangements for managing asbestos. Enforcement action was taken over failures such as training staff and producing written management plans – not because staff or pupils were considered at significant risk of exposure, but because these are vital elements of the required control measures.

Compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations in England, Scotland and Wales showed an overall improvement compared with that found in a similar survey and inspection programme of 164 schools outside local authority control in 2010/11 where 41 improvement notices were served on 28 schools.

Geoff Cox, the Head of HSE’s Public Services Sector, said:

“Over the last few years there has been a lot of work by stakeholders across the school sector to raise awareness of the duty to manage asbestos. It is really encouraging to see that awareness of the requirements has increased since our previous inspection initiative.

“That said, schools should not be under any illusion – managing asbestos requires ongoing attention. Schools now have access to a wealth of guidance setting out clear and straightforward steps to achieve and maintain compliance.

“Where duty holders fall below acceptable standards, HSE has taken, and will continue to take, enforcement action”
The inspections revealed a number of common themes in those cases where schools were falling short of the requirements. HSE has published its findings to help share more widely what can be learned from them.

All schools must ensure they have up to date records of asbestos containing materials in their school – this is to make sure that the school knows the location of any asbestos containing materials that could be damaged or disturbed by normal activities, by foreseeable maintenance, or when installing new equipment.

Training is essential for maintenance staff whose work could foreseeably expose them to asbestos and every school needs a robust system to alert anyone who may disturb asbestos at the school. The key group of personnel at risk from asbestos is tradespeople – particularly those undertaking maintenance activities. It is vital that schools ensure that anyone who may disturb asbestos is made aware of its location and condition.

Asbestos which is in good condition and remains undamaged and undisturbed does not pose any significant risk to health if it is managed in compliance with the legal requirements and according to HSE’s published guidance.