Newnham College, Cambridge, received a fine from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in January this year for failings that exposed employees and subcontractors to asbestos during refurbishment works on a flat owned by the college.

The HSE found that there were inadequate planning and management of the refurbishment work carried out on the flat. No asbestos survey was carried out prior to the insulation debris being found and one employee, who contaminated his gloves and clothing with loose asbestos debris, did not have asbestos awareness training and spread asbestos from his clothing outside the flat.

Newnham College pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5 and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The college was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,450.28.

While a fine of £12,000 is not insignificant, it is worth noting that the fines can be much higher. For example, in September 2018 Kent County Council was fined £200,000, with costs of over £21,000, for exposing primary school staff to asbestos after the school failed to act on recommendations from a survey to remove asbestos disturbed by its caretaker 18 months earlier.

Asbestos in Schools

According to the Guardian, it is thought that approximately 90% of schools in England contain asbestos. Asbestos-related diseases are currently untreatable and are thought to claim the lives of an estimated 5,000 people per year in the UK.

The use of asbestos was not banned until 1999; therefore, many schools built before 2000 will contain some form of asbestos. Typically, this may be found, in thermal insulation for pipes or walls, floor tiles, ceiling tiles and cement roofing or guttering.

Who is responsible?

Under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, anyone who has responsibility for the maintenance, repair or control of school or college premises, is a duty holder. This duty also extends to anyone who is likely to work on or disturb the asbestos.

For the majority of schools, a duty holder will be the employer, however, who the employer is will vary depending on the type of school and the legal structure of the school.

In addition, in situations where budgets for building management are delegated to schools by the local authority, the duty to manage asbestos will be shared between schools and the local authority. In these circumstances, it is likely that both parties will, therefore, have ‘duty holder’ responsibilities for the repair and maintenance of the premises.

The Duty Holder’s responsibilities include, for example, the duty to:

  • Take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in premises, and if so, its amount and the condition
  • Assess the risk of any asbestos that is identified
  • Prepare, and keep up to date, a risk management plan
  • Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.
For more information

If you have any concerns about asbestos in schools or have any other questions in relation to this e-briefing, please do not hesitate to contact Kaleigh Grainger or Tim Coolican. We can assist with queries relating to identifying who the duty holder is, what the “duty to manage” involves and the steps a school should take if it is concerned about asbestos.