Asbestos in Schools

Written evidence submitted from the Department for Education

Introduction

1. Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s and may be present in any building that was built or refurbished before 2000. It was used for a variety of purposes, typically fireproofing and insulation. The use of white (chrysotile) asbestos was banned in 1999 (the blue and brown forms were banned in the 1980s). It is estimated that up to 75% of school buildings contain some Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs).

2. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advise us that the most effective approach to managing asbestos is to manage risk locally, through those who are responsible for and therefore know about their own estate.

3. Department for Education policy, as in other aspects of schools management, is to give schools the support they need to fulfil their responsibilities effectively. We expect schools to have an asbestos management plan and to actively implement it in line with legal requirements.

4. The advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is that it is safe to leave undisturbed or undamaged asbestos in place, to carefully manage it, and to remove it where it is likely to be damaged or disturbed. Our policy is to provide and promote guidance material for schools, which is based on the expert advice of the HSE, to manage asbestos safely and effectively.

5. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 includes the "duty to manage asbestos" in non-domestic premises, with responsibility falling to the "duty holder", the person or organisation with responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the buildings. Duty holders have the responsibility for managing the risks arising from asbestos in buildings under their control. In schools, the duty holder is usually the local authority or the school as they are responsible for maintaining and repairing their buildings. In some schools this responsibility is shared between the local authority, as employer, and the school. In other schools responsibility may fall solely to the Governing Body or Academy Trust as employer. Some schools are part of Academy chains where a single Academy Trust is responsible for managing a multiple school estate. Where budgets for building management are delegated to schools, for example by a local authority or Academy Trust, the duty to manage asbestos will be shared between the school and the local authority or trust.

6. In order to help schools fulfil their responsibilities the Department’s asbestos management guidance (updated in 2012) offers advice on duty holders’ responsibilities, this includes advice on training, examples showing where asbestos is commonly found, advice on recording its location and condition, the risks, legislative framework and what to do if things go wrong. This guidance links to other resources, including those provided by the HSE, and is intended to support schools in actively managing and controlling asbestos risks.

Policy Context

7. Policy responsibility for regulation and advice on prevention of exposure to asbestos from work activities, and for prosecuting breaches of regulations, lies with the HSE. We work closely with the HSE to ensure that the guidance that we offer schools reflects their advice.

8. The Department does not manage the schools estate; our capital funding responsibilities are to provide funding for new school places (basic need) and to fund schools and local authorities to maintain their existing buildings. The Department’s asbestos management guidance is supported by the expert advice of the HSE and is aligned with the policy to contain and actively manage asbestos and for its removal to be carried out correctly and safely (for example when buildings are demolished or refurbished, or when damage means that asbestos is no longer safely contained).

9. Nevertheless, the Department takes very seriously the issue of asbestos management in schools. This commitment is demonstrated by our having developed new guidance which was published on the Department’s website in October 2012 [1] .

10. In order to ensure that our guidance meets schools’ needs, we have established the Asbestos in Schools Steering Group to:

a) promote the effective management of asbestos in schools and other children’s settings;

b) raise awareness of and promote the need to ensure the proper management of asbestos in schools and other children’s settings;

c) review and contribute to the development of guidance and targeted training materials on asbestos management for school and local authority staff.

11. Steering group membership represents a wide range of interested parties, including Annette Brooke MP, Chair of the Asbestos in Schools sub-Committee of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety, Jim Sheridan MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, representatives of teaching and non-teaching school staff unions, representatives of school bursars, Governors and Head Teachers, the Chair of the Asbestos Testing and Consultants Association and campaigners who represent asbestos victims. The Terms of Reference of the Steering Group are attached as an appendix to this memorandum.

12. The Department has also acted on the steering group’s recommendation to ask the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) [2] to look into the relative vulnerability of children to low level exposure to asbestos fibres. The Department is committed to reviewing its policy on asbestos management in the light of the CoC’s report, which is expected in May 2013.

13. In reviewing our policy, DfE will continue to be guided by the expert advice of the HSE . W e also take account of evidence from other parties, including members of the Asbestos in Schools Steering Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health [3] . Our aim is to ensure that the practical guidance that we give to schools supports them to manage asbestos in their buildings safely and raises awareness of their duties and the regulatory requirements.

How are schools supported to fulfil their responsibilities for managing asbestos?

14. The obligation to manage asbestos falls to the duty holder, so we offer clear practical guidance that is available on the DfE and HSE websites to enable schools and local authorities to carry out their duties. Many local authorities support schools with asbestos management consultancy. In some authorities this support is offered as a traded service to Academies (including Free Schools), while others only work with schools where they have a legal interest in the building. Where Councils do not offer these services, schools are advised to use framework consultants who are qualified to give appropriate support and advice.

15. The Department is actively promoting its new guidance on managing asbestos through the Asbestos in Schools Steering Group and its links to the teaching unions and other interested parties, and the Department is committed to review the usage of the guidance as well as its contents.

What evidence is there about the presence of asbestos in school buildings and the risk that this presents to pupils and staff?

16. The Department does not collect information on the presence and condition of asbestos in schools. The Control of Asbestos Regulations requires duty holders – local authorities or schools themselves – to manage the risk, including identifying the location and condition of ACMs and maintaining effective records. The law requires that those who are responsible for managing school buildings have the duty to manage asbestos as part of their wider responsibilities and the Department, with the expert support of the HSE, provides guidance to support schools to fulfil these duties.

17. We have, together with the Department of Health, commissioned the Committee on Carcinogenicity to review the available evidence about the relative vulnerability of children to levels of exposure to asbestos. The Committee is due to report its findings in May and the Department is committed to review its policy on asbestos in the light of this report.

What management systems are there and are they sufficient?

18. Anyone who has a duty to manage and maintain premises is responsible for ensuring that they comply with the asbestos regulations. The Department does not manage the schools estate. Attempting to maintain an up to date national asbestos register for all schools and to manage the asbestos in them centrally would not be practical , and is unnecessary. Neither would it help duty holders fulfil their responsibilities. Our policy, as in other aspects of schools management, is to give schools the support they need to fulfil their responsibilities effectively. We expect schools to have an asbestos management plan and to actively manage it in line with legal requirements.

Have changes to schools capital building programmes had an impact on asbestos management in schools?

19. The majority of capital funding for maintenance and repair is devolved to local authorities and schools, because they are responsible for maintaining their buildings and are best placed to determine priorities locally. In 2012-13 we allocated just over £987 million to local authorities and schools for building maintenance and £276 million was retained to meet the maintenance needs of Academies [4] through the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund (ACMF). In deciding their building condition priorities, local authorities and schools will take account of the condition of asbestos in their buildings and repair and refurbishment work is subject to the Control of Asbestos Regulations and HSE guidance on the safe handling of asbestos.

20. The Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), which was announced in May 2012, will tackle some of the schools whose buildings are in the worst condition.

21. Academies can apply for maintenance funding through the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund. To date we have approved 1247 projects at 856 academies and are on track to allocate £299 million for 2012-13 through the programme. Where necessary, asbestos will be removed as part of these works.

Have changes in schools’ management had an impact on their ability manage asbestos?

22. Increasing school autonomy, with schools assuming greater responsibility for their own affairs does not change the principle that the dutyholder is responsible for managing the risks arising from asbestos in buildings under their control. Devolving responsibility to schools, who have day to day experience of managing their buildings, means that asbestos management plans should be up to date and better managed than they could be by a distant bureaucracy in Whitehall. Of course, this approach requires access to appropriate guidance and to professional advice and support. The guidance that we published in October 2012, together with linked resources on the HSE website, is intended to support schools in actively managing asbestos risks.

23. We are aware that HSE intends to carry out inspections of 150 independent and autonomous schools (including Academies) in 2013/14. We will look carefully at these results to ensure that all schools are taking their responsibilities in this area very seriously.


DfE Terms of Reference for Steering Group on Asbestos in Schools

25 March 2011

1. Aims

1.1. To promote the effective management, by schools and by local authorities, of asbestos in schools and other children’s settings.

1.2. To raise awareness of and promote the need to ensure proper management of asbestos in schools and other children’s settings.

1.3. To review and contribute to the development of guidance and targeted training materials on asbestos management for school and Local Authority staff.

2. Terms of Reference

2.1. To consider the risks posed by asbestos in schools and other children’s settings

2.2. To contribute to the development of the DfE/HSE/Partnerships for Schools (PfS) plans to ensure that asbestos is competently managed in schools.

2.3. To review progress against DfE/HSE/PfS plans to promote the effective management of asbestos in schools.

2.4. To ensure that key stakeholders are informed of relevant work that is undertaken to ensure that asbestos is managed effectively in schools.

2.5. To provide input to DfE, PfS and HSE in the preparation of any asbestos guidance that is drafted specifically for schools and children’s settings.

2.6. To promote good practice in asbestos management in schools by local authorities, dioceses, school governors, headteachers, bursars and school business managers, parents’ groups and the teaching and support staff unions – in the independent and maintained sectors.

2.7. To share good practice in documentation and systems in place to effectively record and manage the risks from asbestos in schools.

2.8. To provide an input into the development of any common standards, tools or documentation for schools, governors, dioceses and local authorities on asbestos management.

3. Membership

3.1. The group is convened by DfE and chaired by a senior civil servant from DfE. The group will report to ministers and make recommendations about ongoing activities, as necessary.

3.2. Membership of the steering group is made up of the following key representatives of organisations and invited stakeholders.

3.3. Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and Poole, Chair of Asbestos in Schools sub-Committee of The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health

3.4. Teaching union representative, rotated between the unions

3.5. Non-teaching union representative, rotated between the unions

3.6. Employers’ representative, nominated by Local Government Employers (LGE)

3.7. Asbestos management representative - Chair of Asbestos Testing and Consultants Association (AtaC)

3.8. A local authority officer with relevant responsibilities, for asbestos management in schools

3.9. Jim Sheridan, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Safety and Health

3.10. Michael Lees (representing asbestos victims)

3.11. Representative from the Independent Schools Bursars Association

3.12. Representative from the National Association of Head Teachers

3.13. Representative from the National Governors Association has been invited

3.14. Co-opted expert members if and when required

3.15. DfE, HSE and PfS will be invited to meetings as policy leads and technical experts, to update the project board on progress and to respond to issues raised.

3.16. Representative from the National College for Leadership in Schools and Children’s Services when its role as trainer of headteachers and school business managers is on the agenda.

4. Meetings and Procedures

4.1. PfS will provide secretarial support.

4.2. Meetings to be arranged as required. Initially two quarterly meetings and then 6 monthly or as required.

4.3. Members of the Steering Group may send deputies with agreement of the chair.

March 2013


[1] DfE guidance can be found at http://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/executiveagencies/efa/schoolscapital/buildingsanddesign/managementofpremises/b00215518/asbestosmanagementschools

[2] The COC is an independent advisory committee that provides expert advice to Government Departments and agencies on the potential carcinogenicity of chemicals, from natural products to new synthetic chemicals used in pesticides or pharmaceuticals.

[3] Asbestos in Schools - The need for action, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety 1 February 2012 http://www.jimsheridanmp.org.uk/asbestosinschoolsreport.pdf

[4] The capital allocations for building maintenance are calculated using pupil numbers from the January 2011 Annual Schools Census. For Academies census figures relate to open Academies, schools with Academy orders whose application to convert has been approved and included prospective sponsored Academies with approved expressions of interest where the intended opening date is prior to 31 March 2013.

Prepared 25th March 2013