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Asbestos in Schools

HSE proactive inspection of schools cancelled
Flawed Government policy

In March Chris Grayling MP, the Minister with responsibility for the HSE, announced that HSE would no longer be carrying out pro-active inspections of low risk premises such as shops, offices and LA schools, instead they would carry out reactive inspections once a problem had been reported to them. (For a short summary and the government press release see this link. For the LAC circular follow this link Local Authority Circular on priority planning,)

This policy is flawed and AiS has argued against it for schools. A few years ago HSE rarely carried out proactive inspections of the standards of asbestos management in schools with the inevitable consequence that unsafe systems of asbestos management passed unnoticed and uncorrected. The usual practice was that inspections were only undertaken following an asbestos incident when it was too late as the damage had already been done.

In the last few years AiS have successfully exerted pressure on the Government to change their policy, and indeed since then a reasonable number of proactive inspections have been carried out by the HSE. The latest series has just been completed and was of 162 independent schools (The results will be published in the next two months) It was therefore a retrograde step when the Minister announced that in future the inspections would revert to just reactive inspections.

On May 23rd 2011 the HSE and the Local Government Group published joint guidance, that confirms the policy on proactive inspections.

An article by the safety organisation IOSH discusses the guidance paper and mentions shops and offices but no longer includes schools. (whether this was intentional or not is not known.)  http://www.shponline.co.uk/news-content/full/low-risk-shops-and-offices-to-receive-far-fewer-inspections

On 24th May AiS and Joint Union Asbestos committee (JUAC) had a constructive meeting with HSE to discuss projects where HSE, JUAC and the AiS can work together to improve asbestos awareness in schools. The issue of proactive inspections was raised and HSE officials acknowledged that this is the Government policy but stated that, regardless of what the premises are, asbestos remains a “Main area” that HSE will focus on, and that the strategy to fulfil the policy is developing.  

It is vitally important that HSE proactive inspections of the standards of asbestos management are continued in schools, and the AiS will continue to press the Government to ensure that they are.

Michael Lees

25th May 2011