Kent Council County (KCC) has been fined £200,000 after asbestos was disturbed in a primary school in Sittingbourne

Lansdowne Primary School, now the Stour Academy Trust, was under the control of Kent Country Council in 2013 when work was allowed to proceed which disturbed asbestos and resulted in exposure to a member of staff and possibly others.

Asbestos warning sign

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the school’s caretaker had disturbed an asbestos flue pipe and an asbestos rope gasket during the removal of an air steriliser in May 2013. HSE served a prohibition notice on the primary school.  The notice said: “You have failed to prevent the exposure of employees to asbestos so far as reasonably practicable, in particular the partial steriliser flue and sealant in the school kitchen.”

HSE also said that neither the caretaker nor the headteacher were trained in asbestos management or awareness.

Kent Country Council (KCC) pleaded guilty to breaching reg 10(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, which covers the provision of adequate information, instruction and training to employees, and was ordered to pay the fine plus costs of £21,500 within one month.

During the sentencing hearing judge Heather Norton said the dangers of asbestos had been highlighted in reports from 2010 and 2012 as the housing around the flue pipe contained amosite and the flue itself comprised chrysotile, Kent Online reported.

She went on to question why the headteacher had ticked boxes stating that the caretaker had received asbestos training in 2012 and 2013 when he said that he hadn’t been given any. “The headteacher’s explanation as to why she did this, if it was not correct, is at the very least extremely vague,” judge Norton was reported as saying.

What should have happended?

The site asbestos management plan should have ensured there was a robust process in place to check the asbestos register before any work started. This should have triggered a process to bring in an asbestos contractor to deal with the asbestos properly before allowing any subsequent work to proceed safely.  The caretaker would have been trained properly so that they were aware of the policy and processes for working safely and the content of the existing register. At the end of the work the asbestos register would have been updated.

This case illustrates several things:-

  • How lack of control over a relatively simple job can result exposure to asbestos and have significant financial and legal consequences – if this school had already become an academy when the offence was committed, it would have been the school and the head teacher as the main duty holder, who would have been defending the prosecution and not as in this case KCC.
  • Training is not a ‘box ticking’ exercise – it should be properly delivered, recorded and must also include your own local procedures
  • A suitable asbestos management plan is a legal requirement and it is the responsibility of the Head Teacher to ensure that one is properly written and there is sufficient oversight to ensure that it is effectively implemented.

Envex/RSA have extensive experience in producing clear and comprehensive asbestos management plans and delivering bespoke asbestos training to all levels of staff from Headteachers/Governers/School Business Managers/Bursars as well as the site maintenance and caretaking teams.

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