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Keeping asbestos under control

Detecting the presence of asbestos in school buildings needn't be a cause for alarm, says Michael Grist

Posted by Dave Higgitt | March 16, 2015 | Facilities & buildings

Asbestos in schools hit the news again this month, with claims based on Freedom of Information data that 86 percent of UK schools contain asbestos. Given that it can have such devastating consequences if not managed appropriately, it’s a subject which can inevitably strike fear into many organisations – and nowhere more so than the education sector, where asbestos was commonly specified throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s before it was eventually banned in 1999.

When the coalition government axed the building schools for the future (BSF) programme in 2010, many feared it would simply prolong the risk of exposure to asbestos in schools for pupils, teachers and support staff. TUC union officials in particular were quick to express concern in the aftermath of Michael Gove’s announcement. However, despite the demise of BSF, even those schools in need of major refurbishment continue to manage asbestos containing material (ACM) with the aid of their compliance partners.

That said, there is certainly no need for alarm bells. The key is in effective management of ACMs. With the right processes in place, schools – or any building for that matter – do not always need to spend thousands of pounds on safe removal in order to meet regulations, eliminate risk and ensure the safety of teachers and pupils.

A typical compliance process for asbestos management follows three relatively straightforward steps: completion of an asbestos management survey to identify the presence and nature of ACMs; maintaining an asbestos management plan that details all the necessary arrangements with regards to asbestos on the premises; and finally the routine re-inspection of ACMs according to the relevant guidelines.

What’s more, using an independent consultant, rather than one which has financial association to remedial or removal contractors, local authorities can be assured of integrity, whilst being safe in the knowledge that they are compliant.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force in April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations to take account of the European Commission's view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU directive on exposure to asbestos (directive 2009/148/EC). They set out the legal duties, while an approved code of practice gives practical advice on how to comply with those requirements. The regulations give minimum standards for protecting employees – and of course, in the education sector, pupils – from risks associated with exposure to asbestos.

Regulation four states that if you own, occupy, manage or have a responsibility for property, you have a legal duty to assess and manage the risk from asbestos containing material– but with asbestos management services from as little as £190, this does not need to be as daunting as many would think.

As part the company’s workplace risk management offering, Bureau Veritas’s compliance process for asbestos management begins with an asbestos management survey, designed to locate, as far as is reasonably practicable, the presence and extent of any suspect ACM in the building and assess their condition. Following completion of the site survey, a report will be produced which details the location, extent and product type of any suspected ACM, information on its accessibility and the relative ability of all suspected ACM to release fibres into the air.

An asbestos management plan follows, designed by consultants and split into two phases. Firstly, a desktop study, which includes working with the customer to formulate a management plan, prioritising the risk in each building and identifying training requirements for employees, enables a management strategy to be put in place. This is followed by a second phase, putting the recommendations into practice – for example, an asbestos survey and re-inspection programme and remediation programme if necessary.

Finally, guidance on the regulations states that an asbestos register should be updated annually. Once ACMs have been identified within the asbestos management survey, one of the most important things to guarantee continued safety and compliance is for experts to complete a basic check for deterioration or damage every year. The findings of this re-inspection can then be used to re-prioritise remedial works.

Michael Grist is divisional managing director for Bureau Veritas W: www.bureauveritas.co.uk

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