This toolkit provides a step-by-step guide for managing asbestos in school buildings. It provides links to key information and template policies on Croner-i. This information is being continually checked and updated.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a generic term for a group of fibrous minerals once widely used in the construction industry as a building and insulation material.

Because of its strength and its chemical, electrical and heat resistance, asbestos was widely used in the construction industry through to the mid-1970s. The import and use of both brown asbestos (amosite) and blue asbestos (crocidolite) was banned in the UK in 1985. Both of these materials are among the most hazardous forms of asbestos. In 1992 white asbestos was also banned in the UK. New use of asbestos is prevented by law but existing materials in buildings can remain intact or be encapsulated, provided it is in good condition and is left undisturbed.

Most buildings constructed between 1950 and 1980 are likely to contain some asbestos. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 commercial, industrial and public buildings still contain asbestos materials.

All types of asbestos are classified as Category 1 human carcinogens. It is such a dangerous material for human health because asbestos fibres can split longitudinally into smaller and smaller fibres. These fibres can penetrate deep into the human lung and remain there for extremely long periods.

Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause a range of diseases, including asbestosis (for which there is currently no cure), lung cancer, cancer of the larynx and mesothelioma, which is also invariably fatal. Asbestosis and mesothelioma have latent periods that can last decades.

Employer duties

Employers are required to ensure, so far as is reasonable, the health and safety at work of all employees, including preventing the exposure of employees to asbestos.

What should you do as a school?

The main uses of asbestos included:

  • sprayed insulating coating on steelwork and concrete

  • lagging on pipes and boilers

  • insulation boards on walls, doors and ceilings (asbestos insulation boards – AIBs)

  • asbestos cement as structural sheets, pipes and tanks

  • some ceiling tiles

  • some decorative plasters.

Materials containing asbestos that are undamaged or that have been sealed will not release fibres. Disturbing or damaging materials containing asbestos will lead to fibres being released into the air and this is more likely to happen as the materials age and deteriorate.

Asbestos materials in schools and colleges are most likely to be disturbed by building and maintenance work, but could also be disturbed by vandalism or by everyday issues such as water damage.

The likely risk of school buildings containing at least some asbestos, and the risk this poses to school staff and pupils, means asbestos safety must be a key priority. Schools should have an asbestos management policy linked to policies and procedures on building work and maintenance by school staff and by contractors.

Failure to comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 is a criminal offence. The HSE regularly investigates incidents where duty holders fail to manage asbestos risks and has the power to take enforcement action where appropriate.

Non-statutory guidance is available from the DfE: Managing Asbestos in Your School – Departmental Advice for School Leaders, Governors, Staff, Local Authorities, Academy Trusts and Charitable Trusts. This states that the following steps should be taken by duty holders.

  1. Commission a “management survey” of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

  2. Assess the risks associated with ACMs.

  3. Devise a plan for managing asbestos.

  4. Inform staff, visitors and contractors of any risks and any precautions they must take.

  5. Keep the management of asbestos under review.

Useful Q&As

Managing asbestos that is in a good condition

Reoccupation after asbestos removal

All-party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety report on asbestos

Useful news items

Prioritising schools for the School Rebuilding Programme

Last reviewed 28 January 2022