The Law

The presence of asbestos in schools is a widespread issue in the UK, which is primarily dealt with under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.  These regulations require all duty holders in schools across the country to regularly survey their buildings, create a register of asbestos-containing materials and write a management plan detailing the procedures for monitoring the condition of these materials on the premises.  It is also a requirement that employers provide adequate information, instruction and training to any members of school staff, including teachers, likely to disturb asbestos and ensure staff and contractors are aware of the location of asbestos in the relevant buildings.

The Review

In March 2015, the Department for Education published a Review of the Management of Asbestos in Schools, which was primarily aimed at duty holders in all schools who have as part of their role the responsibility for the maintenance, repair and management of asbestos in school buildings across the UK.

The Review was in light of the announcement earlier this year of over £6 billion of new investment to improve the condition of school estates, with the hope that many school buildings can manage, encapsulate or remove asbestos-containing materials from their premises.

The focus of the Department’s Review was to:

  • develop better and more targeted guidance on asbestos management in schools;
  • enhance the scrutiny on duty holders for managing asbestos in schools;
  • look at ways to improve the evidence base in relation to asbestos in schools;
  • continue to fund the removal of asbestos through funding programmes; and
  • encourage more academies to join the Risk Protection Arrangement.

The main findings of the Review were that many schools were unaware of the wealth of guidance and assistance available on the management of asbestos in the education system and that better accountability was needed for duty holders.  

The Department therefore intend to consult on whether duty holders should be required to provide regular reports regarding their management of asbestos to the Education Funding Agency, and whether these reports should be made publicly available.  This consultation will also consider how these measures will be implemented (including how to avoid unnecessary burdens on duty holders) and the consequences for non-compliance.   

In addition, the Department are reviewing ways in which to gather more information on the levels of asbestos in schools, together with the Health and Safety Executive, and are actively promoting academies’ involvement in the Risk Protection Arrangement (an alternative to insurance focusing on awareness and risk management of asbestos). 

The Review was published in advance of the Department’s “refreshed” guidance on Managing Asbestos in Schools, which was issued later the same month as an outcome of the Review. This can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417033/asbestos_managament_guidance.pdf

Conclusion 

The Department’s intention is that these measures, in addition to the new guidance on Managing Asbestos in Schools will lead to improved compliance and awareness amongst duty holders in schools, which in turn should improve the safety of both staff and children in schools.  Whether this outcome will be achieved is yet to be seen.