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The health and safety responsibility and management of facilities in public sector buildings can fall across a number of varying roles. With more than 500,000 public buildings still estimated to contain asbestos today, the requirement to manage asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) remains a big responsibility for public sector managers.

A Legacy Problem

The dangers of asbestos were not officially recognised until the 1970s but, despite this, it was still used throughout the UK until the asbestos ban in 1999. As such, buildings that were constructed before 2000 are highly likely to contain asbestos, including aging public buildings like hospitals, schools, libraries, museums and town halls.

With this year marking 20 years since the ban of asbestos, the legacy problem of asbestos still needs to be addressed. Awareness and training is needed to combat the risk of exposure and ensure compliance and safety for those using and working in the facilities, buildings and areas that still contain ACMs. Its versatility and extensive properties mean asbestos can be found in varying forms throughout buildings structures as well as furnishings and fittings within them.

Asbestos in schools
The Government and various action groups are taking active steps forward to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos in school properties, following a National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey in March 2017 where nearly 50% of respondents had not been told whether their school is one of the 86% which contains asbestos.

For caretakers in schools who are conducting small repairs or bigger maintenance tasks, not having access to the known location of asbestos within the school can cause incidents that release asbestos fibres into the air. The importance of awareness, knowledge and training cannot be stressed enough to mitigate any risk to staff, students and workers within schools.

Asbestos in hospitals
More recently, the government has been urged to conduct an audit to discover the extent of asbestos presence within the NHS hospital trusts in addition to a BBC survey discovering that nine out of 10 NHS trusts have asbestos in their hospitals. The presence of asbestos in hospitals, and other public buildings, is not surprising given their age and it should not in itself be a significant cause or concern. Greater emphasis should be given to the control measures that are in place at these hospitals and how the materials are being safely managed.

The encouraging element of the BBC article is that the 198 hospitals are aware of the asbestos in their buildings, indicating that they are meeting their requirements to have a record of the asbestos location in
the buildings they control. Attention must be placed, though, upon the buildings where there is uncertainty if asbestos is present or not – which is a legal requirement.

Mitigating risk and implementing control measures
If you own, occupy or manage premises which may contain asbestos, you have a legal duty to manage the risk – under Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Known as the ‘Duty to Manage’, the legislation applies to all
non-domestic buildings and includes commercial, public and industrial premises, which should take the following steps to manage asbestos:
1. Undertake an inspection and maintain a register of asbestos-containing
materials (ACMs) in the building
2. Assess the risks associated with ACMs in the premises
3. Devise a plan for managing asbestos in the hospital, school or other
4. Make sure staff, visitors and contractors know the risks and precautions
they need to take
5. Keep the management of asbestos in the public building under review

Understanding the sensitivity of public sector buildings is crucial to safe and effective management, which is where SOCOTEC’s extensive experience in this area will be of considerable benefit to building managers

Graham Warren ACAD Manager commented “The seemingly ever-present risk from Asbestos Containing Materials is a headache for many clients and SOCOTEC have flagged up public sector as an area where improvements have been made but appear to still have a little further to go. Ongoing maintenance of ACMs is a fundamental aspect of the UK’s approach to
managing Asbestos and where removal is necessary then audited ACAD members are ready to help remove this headache once and for all.”

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