.
Information on asbestos in schools Research Papers Asbestos Policy Suggested Improvements Checking asbestos management Asbestos Guidance for 'System Built' schools Home Page
A summary of the main issues and latest situation Reports of Incidents and Media Articles Investigative programmes, interviews and personal experiences Misleading statements used by those in authority Contact
Results per page:

Match: any search words all search words

How to Check your Schools Asbestos Management


Actions after an Incident

Updated 15 March 2011

Plan should have a record of Incidents

If asbestos fibres are released in any quantity other than in very minor amounts a record should be kept of what happened and who might have inhaled the fibres. It is difficult to define minor amounts but damage that can be seen such as a hole or scratch that has penetrated the surface can release fibres. It is sensible to veer on the side of caution and make a record

Contingency plan in the event of damage
The plan should cover the action to take if asbestos is damaged. Any damage should be recorded and repaired. An assessment should be made after any incident to investigate why the incident took place and what measures have to be taken to prevent a similar incident happening in the future

A record should be made in the person’s medical record. The incident should be recorded in the schools accident record book and the asbestos register, along with the names of the people who were likely to have breathed in any fibres. They should be given prompt and reasoned advice giving a scale of the risk and advising them to contact their GP and record the incident in their medical records.

The plan should cover informing people after an incident  

 

Caution as HSE guidance applies to asbestos contractors, and should not apply to teachers, support staff and children

If asbestos has been damaged then it is probable that asbestos fibres will be released. The management plan should detail what actions the school intends to take to inform people after such an incident. A balance must be made between causing anxiety unnecessarily and informing people of the potential dangers.

Expert medical opinion is that there is no known threshold of exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk. Be careful as the Department for Education refers people to HSE guidance on what actions to be taken after an incident. (OC265/48)The guidance incorrectly states that the exposures will normally be insignificant if they do not exceed the "Action Level."  This is a technical term and no longer current, it is described in detail in Mesothelioma, Benchmark Levels of Asbestos Exposure. It is not a safe level, and was designed for asbestos contractors working on asbestos wearing masks and protective overalls. It should not apply to teachers, support staff and children in a school. Despite this HSE policy remains that people should not be told of their exposure in a school unless the level exceeds the Action Level.

 Perhaps you might be told that as the level was beneath the "Control Level/Limit" then there is no risk. This is equally incorrect as once again this level is for asbestos contractors wearing masks and protective clothing, and is not a safe level, particularly for children. The 2006 regulations include an ill defined term "sporadic and low intensity," and hence you might be told that the asbestos fibre release was sporadic and low intensity and was therefore safe. Do not accept that either, unless comprehensive air sampling has been carried out, and all the results are below the Clearance Level.

Insist that air sampling is carried out by specialist contractors with disturbance that simulates every day activities. This should involve vigorous dusting of surfaces and floors. If the results are at or above the Clearance Level/Indicator then the room cannot be legally occupied (0.01f/ml), for HSE state that it is not a safe permanent level. In addition the specialists should carry out dust sampling of surfaces to detect whether there is asbestos fibre contamination on surfaces. If those are not clear, or the airborne fibre levels are at or above the Clearance level then the rooms should not be occupied. The rooms should be environmentally cleaned by specialists and further air and dust samples should be undertaken on completion of the work. Only when the source of fibre release has been prevented and all the tests are clear can the rooms be occupied once again.

Because the Clearance level is not an acceptable permanent level, if the results are just below it then further tests should be carried out, with disturbance, a few days later to check that fibre levels have reduced to a level well below it. If they have not then the source of fibre release should be determined and remedial actions taken.

Informing -


The Issues

HSE Medical Branch advice is: "Even when it is not possible to determine whether an exposure was significant or not entry in the medical record is recommended".

When people should be told. Our proposal. A single hole from a drawing pin probably would not warrant informing people unless there is concern, in which case they can be correctly told that there is almost no risk to their health. If however there are lots of holes from drawing pins, compasses or ball point pens then the fact should be recorded, the damage should be repaired and those people who might have inhaled any fibres should be told. If the incident happened only once then the risk to anyone’s health is perhaps minimal. However if such a practice continued over a longer period of time then regrettably then there is a potential risk to health. The risk is small but there is a risk. If a hole has been kicked in an asbestos insulating board wall then there is also a risk to health.

Even after a minor incident involving asbestos rumours abound and people can be anxious and concerned unnecessarily. Such an occasion warrants prompt and reasoned advice so that they can be given a true measure of the risk and their concerns can be dispelled. Secrecy following an asbestos incident is not acceptable, although it is common practice. The school authorities should always adopt a policy of openness by telling people the facts.

Medical advice

Unless the incident is a minor one schools should consult a specialist doctor and he will be able to assess the extent of the risk and give advice. The Local Authority’s Environmental Health Officer can be consulted also the HSE Employment Medical Advisory Service may be able to provide details of people in your area who can give help and advice.

The incident should be recorded in the asbestos register and the schools’ accident record book along with the names of those who were likely to have breathed in any fibres. They should be given prompt and reasoned advice giving a scale of the risk and advising them to contact their GP who should record the incident in the person's medical records.

 

Summary

Many schools have adequate systems for making sure that no one is exposed to asbestos. However some are not as conscientious, and the fact that in some schools staff are not trained and asbestos management plans are unworkable means that asbestos can be damaged and the dangerous fibres can be released. As parents, teachers and support staff you have a vested interest in making sure that your school has a good asbestos management plan and that the school authorities take the necessary measures to ensure that it works. The guidance in this paper is not meant to be the “Complete Guide to Managing Asbestos” however if these measure are implemented then the school should  have a workable plan. Look at your school’s plan, ask questions and decide for yourselves whether the school are doing their best to assure your safety and that of your children.

Further Reading

If you want to know more then read the HSE publication “A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Asbestos In Premises.” This is a well written book with some very good practical guidance, however when you are reading it, do bear in mind the reservations that have been raised in this paper over the present laws and guidance when applied to schools. This book can be down loaded from the HSE web-site: http://books.hse.gov.uk/hse/public/saleproduct.jsf?catalogueCode=9780717623815 

Other guidance is given in HSE publication "Asbestos Essentials". It can be downloaded from the web http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/essentials/  This gives practical guidance on simple tasks that the school's maintenance staff and caretakers might be expected to carry out. It lays out the precautions that should be taken when asbestos materials are involved, for instance when changing a light bulb or painting a ceiling. It must be borne in mind that none of these tasks should be undertaken in a school unless the person undertaking the tasks has been fully trained in what measures to be taken to avoid releasing asbestos fibres, and that training has to ensure that the person is fully aware of the dangers of asbestos.