Asbestos, widely used in the construction of educational facilities throughout the 20th century, continues to pose serious health hazards.
Many schools and colleges still have asbestos-laden materials like ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, and flooring. When these materials are disturbed or damaged, they release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. These fibers can be inhaled, leading to long-term health issues, including Mesothelioma a rare but aggressive form of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
Understanding the risks of asbestos exposure in schools is vital for the safety of students, staff, and faculty.
The need to address asbestos hazards in educational settings is a public health imperative that demands thorough identification, management, and abatement plans. This is especially critical for younger populations, who are more vulnerable to asbestos-related diseases and have a longer latency period for these diseases to manifest. Failure to take appropriate measures can not only put lives at risk but can also subject educational institutions to significant legal liabilities. Both awareness of the dangers and compliance with existing regulations are essential for maintaining a safe and conducive learning environment.
Because asbestos was used in the construction of commercial buildings up until 2003, when the Australian Government imposed a complete ban on the use of asbestos in construction, asbestos still has a presence in a lot of buildings. This asbestos risk includes schools, where asbestos can be released into the environment if not managed properly.
For the sake of both the safety of students and teachers, as well as the compliance of the building with Government regulations, it is important to have a school asbestos register in place.
What is a school's asbestos register?
An asbestos register is a document that lists the details of identified asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in a workplace. These details include:
- Date of identification
- Type of ACM
- Whether the asbestos is friable or non friable
- The condition of the ACM
- The specific location
- Accessibility of the area
In order to be effective, a register must contain:
- Any ACM that has been identified or is assumed to be present at the school
- The date when the ACM was identified
- The location, type and condition of the ACM
- Up-to-date information
- Confirmation if no ACMs have been identified
How do different states make their schools asbestos registers available?
Different states in Australia have different approaches towards asbestos management, in part due to their difference in asbestos regulations. Here is a guide on how schools make their asbestos registers available by state.
All ACT public schools with known asbestos have been surveyed and have a management plan. These reports are part of the Hazardous Materials Register kept at the school’s front office. Asbestos surveys are reviewed annually.
In New South Wales, schools conduct and maintain their asbestos registers in accordance with their asbestos management plan.
Additionally, all NSW schools’ asbestos registers are available for viewing via the NSW government website, where they have been organised in alphabetical order. All of the registers are updated annually.
In Queensland, the school asbestos register is compiled from information in the Built Environment Materials Information Register (BEMIR) maintained by the Department of Energy and Public Works. It is available to read as an Excel spreadsheet on the Queensland Government website. The register is updated twice a year.
In South Australia, schools are annually inspected by the Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DPTI) Asbestos Services and an asbestos register maintained at each site.
On completion of the annual inspection the asbestos register will be updated through Strategic
Asset Management Information System (SAMIS) and a hard copy provided by the Asbestos
Services unit to the site.
You can find more information about the South Australian Government’s asbestos register procedures here.
The Tasmanian Government doesn’t have a page on school asbestos registers. Instead, they centralise all of their information on asbestos management on a single webpage that links to the National Asbestos Exposure Register.
Victoria has a very comprehensive school asbestos management plan that they outline on their website concerning the identification, management, communication and removal of asbestos containing materials.
Every school is required to have an asbestos register, as well as an asbestos label register. It is the principal’s responsibility to ensure the qualified personnel inspect the school buildings and label them to indicate the presence of asbestos, recording their findings in the asbestos register and label register.
Each school has an ACM register which identifies the location and condition of all known
ACM throughout the premises. The ACM register must be located at the reception or
main office in the Asbestos Management File and must be available at all times for
review by all contractors, trades people and any other people proposing to undertake
any repairs, modifications and maintenance before commencing any work on the
premises. This includes any Department staff undertaking any work, such as hanging
pictures or painting walls.
What is the best software for managing asbestos in schools?
Octfolio is asbestos management software that contains all of the tools you need to record and track ACMs present in any building, including schools. This includes comprehensive asbestos registers, as well as other important asbestos management functions including;