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Act Now on Asbestos – what schools can do before the start of the new year

Earlier this month, July 2023, The Times launched its ‘Act Now on Asbestos’ campaign, calling on the UK Government to develop a plan to remove asbestos from all schools in the UK in the next 40 years.

For our Technical Director, Darren Evans, it’s a welcome campaign. He has been a passionate advocate for asbestos safety in schools for many years and was consulted as part of a pivotal House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report on this subject earlier this year.

In this article, Darren explains why this campaign is needed, as well as practical steps schools can take to start managing asbestos safely before the new academic year.

If you’re concerned that asbestos isn’t being properly managed in your school, read on to see what you can do to make sure asbestos is safely managed in your buildings.


What’s the scale of the problem - and what do schools need to know?


We’ve known for several years that there is a significant number of schools with significant quantities of asbestos. This issue even featured in a storyline of Grange Hill in 1986. Since then, asbestos has been banned completely in construction in the UK, but we’re still dealing with the problems its use has left behind.

In the past 40 years, over 10,000 staff and students in schools have died from historical asbestos exposure. It reflects a wider trend in ‘occupational exposure’ (being inadvertently exposed to asbestos in your workplace) becoming a greater cause of asbestos-related illness or death than ‘industrial exposure’.

As opposed to other commercial or public buildings, however, schools are affected by a unique set of circumstances:

1)     Asbestos is widespread - it’s estimated to be installed in at least 21,500 out of 35,000 schools in Great Britain.

2)     It’s often found in a degraded condition – particularly in system-built CLASP or RoSLA buildings (which were only meant to be temporary structures) that are effectively falling apart.

3)     It can be particularly poorly managed in schools – between a lack of resources, knowledge or ability, proper asbestos management protocols are often not followed.

4)     People with the legal duty to manage asbestos might not even know that they are ‘duty holders’ - I’ll explain this in more detail later in the article, including how to find out if you are the duty holder.

While a lot of energy and effort from HSE go into ensuring asbestos is removed safely, they haven’t been able to commit the same approach into inspecting schools for asbestos, mostly due to the sheer scale of the issue. This means that regulations go unenforced, and between 2022-23, just 0.01% of schools (400) were inspected by HSE for compliance with management regulations.

There’s also one other key distinguishing factor: schools are full of children, who are boisterous. You can tell a room full of adults not to touch ceiling tiles that are full of asbestos, but if you tell a classroom of kids, what are they going to do?


Where are the asbestos hotspots in schools?


As I have already alluded to, ‘RoSLA blocks’ and system-built CLASP buildings from the period 1940-80 are hotspots for asbestos. This is because they were never meant to be permanent structures - both were made to cope with more students and coming into schools, due to a rising post-war population and later the mandatory school leaving age increasing. So, they’re falling apart, and the asbestos inside them can be in a dangerous condition.

However, any building constructed before the year 2000 may contain asbestos – it’s still installed in over 1.5 million buildings in the UK.

In any school built before 2000, it might be found in various places, including:

  • Lagging around ageing boilers and pipework
  • Asbestos ceiling tiles
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Insulating board between walls

Following current guidance, it remains installed in so many buildings because some asbestos-containing materials are safer left ‘as they are’ – rather than disturbed.

However, if the location of asbestos on the school premises isn’t known (which it frequently isn’t, due to a management plan not being kept up to date) then it is far more likely it will inadvertently be disturbed or degrade over time.

This is how it becomes more likely to release harmful fibres into the air.



What can you do next to tackle this issue?


While the broader context is concerning - and you may have already organised maintenance work during the holidays - there are steps that trustees, governors, and other health and safety leads in schools can take before the start of the new academic year to make sure that asbestos is safely managed:

1)     Find out who the duty holder is - this is frequently someone with budget authority. This can be a local authority, diocese, board of governors, or academy trust, and if you are a headmaster, it might even be you.

2)     Get access to the asbestos management plan for the school – this should detail everywhere asbestos is on-premises. If it is out of date, you will need a survey to bring it up to date (and stay legally compliant).

3)     Ensure all staff understand that they can be affected by asbestos exposure – remember, they do not have to work directly with it to disturb it.

4)     Conduct an asbestos survey – you may have multiple kinds of asbestos on your premises. A survey can inform you of their locations and conditions, which gives you the information you need to remove ‘high-risk’ asbestos materials and prevent building users from being exposed.

5)     Ensure that plans are in place to inspect and reinspect asbestos in your premises, and to conduct an annual review of your management plan.


AEC has over 25 years of experience in supporting schools to train duty holders, conduct management surveys, and build a long-term plan of action that will help to keep schools compliant and safe.

If your school has been affected by any of the issues in this article, please do reach out to me and my team at or call 0203 384 6175.


Darren Evans is AEC’s Technical Director. He is also a member of the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy Association (ATaC) Management Committee, and British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) Faculty of Asbestos Assessment and Management Committee.

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