Control of asbestos

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Health and safety
02 November 2016
It is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, yet it is estimated that more than 1.5 million workplace properties still contain some form of asbestos.

Certainly, asbestos is present in many educational establishments, though staff are often unaware of its presence until repairs or renovations occur. Asbestos is often found in ceiling tiles, partitions or as an insulation material for pipes or boilers. The main types still found in premises are 'white asbestos' (chrysotile), 'blue asbestos' (crocidolite) and 'brown asbestos' (amosite). White asbestos is the most common and least hazardous of the three.

ATL advises its safety reps that, if your school or college was built or refurbished up to 1985, you should presume that the premises contain asbestos, unless your employers have confirmed to the contrary.

New advice was published by the Department for Education in 2012: to see it, visit: this web page.

Employers' duties to control asbestos

A specific duty on employers to manage the risks from asbestos in buildings is contained in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and The Control of Asbestos Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012, which require employers to:

  • inspect the workplace to check for asbestos and the condition it is in
  • presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
  • keep a register or record of its location
  • carry out a risk assessment on materials containing asbestos
  • draw up a written plan for managing asbestos in the workplace
  • put in place measures to prevent and control exposure of asbestos to staff and others, such as pupils and students
  • monitor and review these arrangements
  • consult trade union safety reps about asbestos
  • provide information on the location and condition of asbestos to anyone who is likely to work near or disturb it.

No maintenance or other work that may result in exposure to asbestos should be carried out unless it has been ascertained whether asbestos is or may be present, what type it is, what material it is and what its condition is.

Safety reps should request a copy of their school or college's asbestos policy, which should include details of where asbestos is located and the steps that have been taken to monitor the position.

Pinning/tacking work to walls and ceilings

The Health and Safety Executive advises that work produced by pupils and others should not be pinned or tacked to walls or ceilings containing asbestos. Release of deadly asbestos fibres could result. This common practice should therefore cease immediately.

WWII era gas masks

WWII gas masks are potentially dangerous as they can release asbestos fibres. They can also be contaminated with harmful chemicals from previous use in gas drills. In addition some post war gas masks can release asbestos fibres and can be contaminated. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee has produced some guidance on this issue: JUAC warning - asbestos in gas masks.

Removal of asbestos

Employers are not automatically obliged to remove asbestos from the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive advises that if the asbestos is in good condition and not likely to be damaged, disturbed or worked on, it is usually safer to leave it in place and manage it.

If asbestos is in poor condition, or likely to be damaged or disturbed, advice should be sought from an asbestos surveyor, or specialist contractor licensed by the HSE, as to whether it should be repaired, enclosed, sealed or removed altogether.

Safe removal of asbestos is a specialised operation, so the area affected should be sealed off and work carried out during holiday periods, if possible. 'Air tests' should be made to ensure no contamination remains before the area is reoccupied. Safety reps are entitled to receive the results of these tests.

See also