HSE asbestos inspections for schools – what you need to know
Are you the responsible person for health and safety in your school? If so, you should be aware that from September, the HSE has been carrying out a programme of inspections to assess the management of asbestos in primary and secondary schools in England, Scotland and Wales.
The inspections will be looking at the risks from asbestos within the school and its buildings are being managed and how the duty to manage requirements under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is being met.
These regulations mean that whoever has responsibility for the maintenance of work premises, including schools, has a duty to manage the risk from asbestos.
Who will be carrying out the inspections?
HSE inspectors will contact the school before visiting to arrange a suitable date and time for the inspection. They will need to speak to someone with knowledge of how asbestos is managed by the school and may also ask to see certain documentation before they visit. This will likely be the asbestos register and management plan.
Who is the duty holder in a school?
The “dutyholder” as defined in Regulation 4 covers anyone who has responsibility for the maintenance and/or repair of the school. For most schools, this will be the employer.
Of course, the employer will differ depending on the nature of the school. For community schools, community special schools, voluntary-controlled schools, maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units, the employer is the local authority.
If the school is an academy, a free school, a voluntary-aided or foundation schools, the dutyholder will be the governors of the school. If the school is an independent one, the dutyholder may be either the proprietor, governors or trustees.
Where the local authority has delegated budgets for building management to the school, they will both share the duty to manage asbestos and responsibilities for the repair and maintenance of the premises will rest with both parties.
What should schools do now?
Before receiving notification of a visit from the inspectors, schools will need to take a look at the current arrangements for managing asbestos and check that they are meeting the duties outlined in the Regulations.
Those duties include requirements to:
take reasonable steps to find out if there are asbestos-containing materials in the school premises, and if so, the amount, where it is and what condition it is in;
presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not;
make, and keep up to date, a record of the location and condition of any asbestos containing material - or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos;
assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified;
prepare an asbestos management plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed;
take the necessary steps to put the plan into action;
periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements, and act on the findings, so the plan and arrangements remain relevant and up to date;
provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on, or disturb them.
If there is no plan in place for dealing with asbestos, the duty holder could face a fine of up to £20,000 or up to six months imprisonment. If the inspector uncovers a serious breach of regulations, this could result in an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment.
Advice and guidance
As can be seen, the responsibilities of control of asbestos are significant and the penalties similarly so. It makes sense, therefore, if you or your organisation are the dutyholder, that you obtain expert advice on what you need to do in order to stay compliant with the regulations. The requirements are complex and therefore, that expert advice should also include legal guidance to ensure you do not, inadvertently, breach the regulations.