Just days after the government finally released its delayed ‘asbestos in schools’ policy review comes news of an apparent failure to properly plan for asbestos waste disposal at one of the country’s leading primary schools.

The Department of Education report has received a lukewarm reception for its seeming lack of real asbestos awareness to the extent of the problem and appearing to offer no real clear strategy for removal of the potential risk.

Now parents of pupils at top of the school league tables, Fox Primary School, in London’s Kensington and Chelsea have voiced their concern over plans to keep their children in the school premises while major renovations are carried out, which includes the removal of asbestos containing materials.

While the council received 19 letters in support of a planning application, which includes demolitions “detrimental to the area” it also received 72 letters objecting to the application because of the noise and disturbance would be close to residential properties.

Unloading skips close to pupils

Despite rejecting plans to relocate the pupils because it was thought “too disruptive”, the school sent a letter to reassure parents that it was “looking after the health of their children.” However, parents claim they have video footage of lorries entering the school and unloading two skips without any measures taken to ensure the safety of pupils playing nearby.

Under the Control Asbestos Regulations 2012, the working area should securely sealed off to prevent airborne fibre dust during the removal process. While it is long-term, consistent exposure to asbestos that is more likely to cause the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer or other asbestosis diseases, it is now more accepted that any exposure can be a potential risk. The Government Office for Science has previously said that it “may not be possible to determine a threshold level” below which, exposure could be considered safe for human health.

Building firms are under increasing scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise their awareness and comply with all required procedures to prevent the potential risk of asbestos exposure. Builders, demolition workers and other trade firms continue to be brought to court for failing to observe the strict procedures for asbestos waste removal.

Correct procedure

By contrast, another recent news item concerning the removal of asbestos demonstrates that the correct procedures can be observed without a problem, even though demolition rather than renovation of a building is to be carried out. Building contractors have been stopped from proceeding with the demolition of the Harlequin Valet in Cullompton, Mid Devon due to the presence of asbestos.

The Council said that they had just been advised of the “presence on-site of asbestos of a notifiable type”, even though an asbestos survey carried out in advance of works proceeding had found none. In a statement the council also said that “in accordance with requirements, arrangements will be put in place to enclose the area so that safe removal can take place together with appropriate disposal.”

As a result, demolition work has “temporarily ceased in order to comply with requirements” and will not be able to proceed again “until the notifiable asbestos has been removed.”

Appropriate controls

According to the HSE, “ All non-licensed work is required to be carried out with the appropriate controls in place. Employers will also have an obligation for notifiable, non-licensed work (NNLW)”, which means they must:

  • Notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcing authority.
  • Ensure medical examinations are carried out.
  • Maintain registers of work (health records).

The process involves specifying whether a type of asbestos work is either licensable, NNLW or non-licensed work in each case. To do this, a risk assessment must be carried out first to identify the type of asbestos-containing material (ACM) and an evaluation of its condition.