Asbestos in Schools

In recent years, the government launched the asbestos management assurance process to find out more about asbestos in schools. According to information released following a freedom of information request, of the 2,952 schools bodies that responded in full to the survey, 2,570 (87%) reported having asbestos in at least one of their buildings.

This news later hit headlines and prompted asbestos and education experts to highlight the dangerous lack of safety management in schools.

The good news is that school staff do not need to panic. It is certainly alarming that so many schools contain asbestos, but it is important to understand that asbestos is not immediately dangerous if you don’t disturb it. So, as long as you know where it is and how to avoid it, you can reduce the risk.

Why is Asbestos in Schools a Problem?

Asbestos is dangerous no matter what premises you are in, but the nature of schools and their ACMs make them particularly high risk. The primary problems are: risk of exposure; without an awareness, asbestos can be easy to disturb; deterioration of ACMs in old schools; and exposure being disruptive and costly.

Let’s explore these areas in more detail.

Risk of Exposure

Asbestos in school buildings poses a major risk to potentially hundreds of people, including students and staff. What’s more is that these people could be at risk of asbestos exposure for a seriously long period of time – whether it’s teachers who work there for years, or students who study there for their entire primary or secondary education.

The National Education Union (NEU) has shared figures about the effects of asbestos exposure in schools over the last few decades:

  • Since 1980, at least 363 school teachers have died from mesothelioma (an asbestos-related cancer). 249 of these deaths have been since 2001.
  • School teachers are dying from mesothelioma at an average of 19 per year.
  • Julian Peto, a leading epidemiologist, estimates that between 200 and 300 people die each year of mesothelioma, due to exposure to asbestos when they were a student.

Without an awareness, asbestos can be easy to disturb

The risk of disturbing asbestos is significant if teachers, pupils, and anyone who needs to do work in the building – such as contractors – are unaware of its presence and dangers. Students in particular may not fully grasp the severity of asbestos risks and may accidentally disturb it without much consideration of their actions.


Deterioration of ACMs in old schools

ACMs pose a particularly high risk in old school buildings because asbestos was mostly installed in them between the 1940s – 1970s. According to the NEU, 60% of school buildings are over 40 years old. This means that, over time, the ACMs in these old schools have been naturally deteriorating, which can lead to asbestos fibres being released.

Given that schools are heavily occupied, the risk of deterioration is even greater, and the chances of exposure are incredibly high.

Exposure is disruptive and costly

Not only is disturbing asbestos a real threat to people’s wellbeing, but it can also be extremely disruptive and costly for schools. A major asbestos disturbance could result in the school needing to temporarily relocate hundreds of students for safety reasons, while removal and decontamination is underway.

What are the legal duties of schools that contain asbestos?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 places a legal responsibility on schools’ duty holders to manage asbestos. This refers to those in charge of the school’s maintenance or who have some control of the premises – usually the local authority or governing body.


Their duties include, but are not limited, to:

  • Making and keeping up-to-date records of the location and condition of asbestos-containing materials, or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos. They should assume that materials do contain asbestos unless they have strong evidence to the contrary.
  • Assessing the risk of ACMs being disturbed and consequently exposing people to asbestos fibres.
  • Preparing a plan that identifies which parts of the premises contain asbestos. They must set out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed. This doesn’t necessarily require duty holders to immediately arrange for asbestos removal in schools. The HSE currently recommends that it’s safer to leave undamaged ACMs alone and introduce a system of management. If a risk assessment identifies that ACMs are highly vulnerable to being disturbed or degrading, they may need to consider arranging for removal to eliminate the risk.
  • Sharing information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them, including staff and contractors.

It’s therefore expected that duty holders share information about asbestos in the school with staff members – particularly site and facilities managers. This information should be passed on to teachers, and anyone else who works in the school, who may be at risk of disturbing or being exposed to the asbestos. The duty of preventing asbestos risks then extends to you.

In some cases – such as if the risk is high but removal hasn’t been arranged – it may also be appropriate for staff to receive asbestos awareness training. This provides a greater level of understanding about asbestos. However, a basic awareness of where asbestos is in your school and what procedures to follow is still essential, as no two premises are the same.

Get Started with Casa Environmental Services

Here at Casa Environmental Services, we specialise in providing UKAS accredited asbestos surveying and analytical services throughout the UK. If you suspect your school contains asbestos, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team today. We have all the knowledge, equipment and expertise needed to not only identify asbestos, but also safely manage it, whether that be through encapsulation, removal or decontamination.

See more: Asbestos management through lockdown

References & other sources: National Educational Union (NEU),

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