Asbestos was widely used in building materials up until the late 20th century, lauded for its fire resistance, durability, and insulating properties. Unfortunately, many schools built during this time may still contain asbestos. This guide aims to help school administrators and facility managers understand the potential risks and management strategies associated with asbestos.
Asbestos may be present in various materials within school buildings. These include:
Although the presence of asbestos in schools is a concern, it’s important to note that asbestos poses a risk only when it’s disturbed or deteriorated, allowing the fibers to become airborne and potentially inhaled.
If you suspect your school contains asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), arranging for a professional inspection is a must. A trained and accredited asbestos professional can take samples of suspected materials and have them analyzed in a lab to determine if they contain asbestos. They can also assess the condition of these materials and the risk they pose.
If asbestos is found within your school, the next step is to create an asbestos management plan. This is a documented strategy that outlines how you will manage the asbestos in your school to protect staff and students. Your plan should include:
This plan must be kept up-to-date and readily available to school staff and parents.
It’s important to ensure that all staff, particularly maintenance and custodial staff, are aware of the locations of ACMs and understand the importance of not disturbing these materials. Regular training sessions can help keep this knowledge fresh and provide an opportunity for staff to ask questions or raise concerns.
If ACMs in your school become damaged or need to be disturbed for maintenance or renovation work, it’s essential to call in a professional. Asbestos abatement – the process of safely repairing, enclosing, encapsulating, or removing ACMs – should always be done by trained and certified professionals. The health and safety of your school community are too important to risk with a do-it-yourself approach.
As a school administrator or facility manager, you carry the responsibility of continuous monitoring of the school environment. ACMs need to be inspected regularly to check for signs of damage or deterioration. Regular re-inspections, typically every three years, should also be part of your asbestos management plan to keep your records updated.
Your asbestos management plan should include procedures for emergencies or sudden disturbances of ACMs. Emergencies can be due to natural disasters, accidents, or unexpected damage during maintenance work. The plan should define clear steps to isolate the affected area, prevent further damage, and get the situation assessed and handled by professionals promptly.
Transparency is crucial when it comes to asbestos management in schools. Staff, parents, and even students (where appropriate) should be informed about the presence of asbestos, what steps are being taken to manage it, and what they should do if they notice damaged materials. Clear and consistent communication can ease potential fears and ensure everyone plays a role in maintaining a safe school environment.
In the United States, public school districts and non-profit schools are legally obligated to follow the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). This law requires schools to inspect their buildings for asbestos-containing building material, prepare an asbestos management plan, and take actions to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. Understanding and adhering to these legal requirements is vital.
Managing asbestos in schools is a significant responsibility but it’s one that, when handled correctly, can protect the health and well-being of the entire school community. By understanding the challenges, partnering with trained professionals, and staying committed to regular monitoring and communication, school administrators and facility managers can successfully and safely manage asbestos in schools. The value of creating and maintaining a safe environment for education can’t be understated. It’s a significant investment in the health and future of our children.