The government, and some non-governmental organisations, argue that it is safe to leave asbestos in schools and other public buildings, so long as there is a register of where the asbestos has been found. A case, brought to court by the Health and Safety Executive, shows this policy does not work. The school did have an asbestos register, but no one remembered to look at it when some essential work was planned! This is not an isolated case.
What the HSE said
A school and its maintenance contractor have been fined after workers disturbed asbestos at the school while installing a new heating system.
Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard that, in February 2019, T.W. Steam & Heating Services Limited had been contracted by Park View Academy, to install a new heating system in the school building at Park View School, Chester Le Street.
In the course of the work, ceiling tiles containing asbestos were disturbed, potentially exposing several people to asbestos fibres.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the contractor and the school both failed to refer to existing asbestos registers and management plans to identify the presence of asbestos within the school building.
Fines and courts costs came to more than £14,000
Park View Academy of Church Chare, Chester Le Street pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £3000 with £4785.37 costs.
T.W. Steam & Heating Services Limited of Rennys Lane Industrial Estate, Durham pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £2,000 with £4,710.37 costs.
Those in charge of a building have a duty to tell people where the asbestos is
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Ashfaq Ali commented, “The dangers associated with asbestos are well known and advice and guidance is freely available from HSE and other organisations. Those in charge of premises have a duty to inform contractors of the presence of asbestos containing materials, ensuring that works are carried out safely.
Those who do the work have a duty to take care of their employees and the people using the premises
“Those undertaking work which is likely to disturb asbestos, or asbestos containing materials, should ensure that building occupants and operatives are not exposed to asbestos. Those undertaking the work should also provide suitable information, instruction and training to their employees.”
Find out more more about this case here, on the HSE website.