HSE Launches Campaign To Keep People Safe From Asbestos

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the legal duties regarding asbestos management. Asbestos was banned for use as a construction material in 1999 due to harmful and even fatal effects on human health.

However, millions of buildings that were constructed before this date are thought to contain dangerous levels of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). These include thousands of schools in the UK, and may include old-fashioned modular buildings that were installed between the period of 1945 to 1980.

These modular buildings are sometimes called ‘system-built’ structures because they were prefabricated off-site and are assembled with steel frames and panel in-fill. They were seen as an affordable and fast alternative to conventional bricks and mortar constructions, particularly in the post-war period when labour and materials were in short supply.

Today’s premium modular buildings do not of course contain ACMs or any other potentially harmful materials. They are constructed from high-tech materials that are strong, durable, and provide good insulation, and can be individually customised with further energy efficient features such as double glazing, extra panelling, and solar panels.

The quality of modern modular and portable buildings means that they can last for several decades and can provide a solution for schools who are facing a shortage of classrooms due to ACMs or other issues such as Raac. Almost all state schools in the UK are facing severe pressures on their budgets, with little cash to spare for repairs or extensions.

Therefore modular buildings are increasingly in demand for use as classrooms, canteens, changing rooms, offices, storage, and science laboratories. They can be installed on any flat and stable surface within a matter of days, avoiding the months of noise, dirt, safety risks and disruption caused by conventional construction work.

These structures are easy to set up and also can be relocated to other sites if necessary. They are flexible and can be adapted to a range of purposes, and the exteriors can be blended into the existing environment with customised cladding, branding or colour washing. They can be reconfigured with multiple storeys or adjacent buildings to create more space.

Because they are produced in a controlled factory environment, the buildings are not subject to the frustrating delays caused by weather disruptions or material deliveries that can plague traditional construction projects and also cause costs to mount up.

They are also an eco-friendly choice, with efficient use of materials, reduced waste and a lower carbon footprint than traditional buildings.

Overall, modular construction methods are more budget-friendly with far fewer if any unexpected costs arising during the installation process. Many sellers also offer flexible funding options or the opportunity to rent rather than buy. Furthermore there may be other funding options available from the government in the form of loans or grants.

The HSE campaign urges anyone with legal responsibilities for public buildings including schools and also workplaces, hospitals, places of worship, museums and galleries to be aware of their legal duties to manage asbestos. If the asbestos is properly contained then it poses no risk to health, but asbestos is dangerous if it is damaged or disturbed.

Anyone responsible for such buildings, typically constructed between 1950 and 1980, has a legal duty to comply with the relevant legislation and ensure that no one is exposed to asbestos. Despite being banned over 25 years ago, asbestos is thought to cause or be a factor in at least 5,000 deaths in the UK each year.

The new campaign includes updated information, asbestos management templates, and explanatory videos. Sarah Albon, HSE’s chief executive said: “To keep people safe from the harms of asbestos, a culture of safely managing asbestos is needed in our building industry and among those responsible for buildings.”

She added: “Asbestos exposure in Great Britain is still the single greatest cause of work-related deaths due to exposures decades ago. Together, we must protect people in the workplace and reduce future work-related ill health.”

Schools that inspectors have flagged up as containing potentially dangerous asbestos face multiple problems. It may lead to the temporary or even permanent closure of classrooms, creating logistical challenges that can be lengthy and stressful for staff and students.

The school may be faced with the costs of removing the asbestos at the same time as requiring urgent new classroom or administrative space. Portable or modular buildings are increasingly becoming the go-to solution for schools in this situation.

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