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Screenshot 2023-07-27 103157

Zoe Mackenzie

Operations Manager

School buildings put to the test

A recent report from the National Audit Office has warned that approximately 700,000 pupils are potentially at risk due to unsafe or aging school properties. Maintaining the safety of these structures while continuing focus on a positive learning experience is a complex task, so in this short article we sum up a few of the challenges associated with these ageing buildings and suggest some practical first steps.

The extensive examination covered 21,600 schools and 64,000 individual buildings and revealed that 24,000 structures have surpassed their estimated “design life”. For non-system school-built buildings, the expected life span was 60-80 years, and system-built blocks had 30-40 years before upgrades were required.

So what should you be looking out for? We’ve looked through the report and summarised our top three things to look out for:

RAAC

The presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in certain schools can cause problems – while this lightweight material was widely used between the 1950s and mid-1990s, it has its limitations, particularly in terms of structural integrity over time. It is crucial to assess the presence of RAAC in your school buildings and take appropriate measures to ensure safety. Through surveys, the Department for Education (DfE) identified 572 schools where RAAC might still be present.

Asbestos

The National Audit Office report identifies 13,800 system-built blocks containing asbestos, with approximately 3,600 of them potentially unstable. A recent report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that 7% of school inspections across England, Scotland, and Wales had “significant failings” in their asbestos management arrangements. Ensuring proper management is imperative to protect students, staff, and visitors from harmful exposure to this dangerous material. Check out our article to learn more about Asbestos.

Radon

In July 2023, a private boarding school was fined £50,000 after exposing two employees, five pupils, and two other children to high levels of radioactive radon gas in 2019. Radon is a colourless and odourless radioactive gas formed by the natural decay of uranium present in rocks and soils. Particles released during the decay process can be inhaled, and cause localized damage within the lungs, leading to an increased risk of lung cancer. While the average radon level in UK homes is 20 Bq m-3, exposure to higher radon levels can escalate health risks. T

Practical steps towards safety

To enhance safety in your school buildings, consider the following steps:

  • Investigate and identify materials of concern such as reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) and Asbestos.
  • Conduct thorough inspections and collaborate with professional engineers to identify areas where RAAC or Asbestos might be present. Based on these assessments, you can then prioritise reinforcement or replacement efforts in critical locations, ensuring the longevity and safety of your school structures.
  • Carry out inspections on a regular basis to identify issues early; timely repairs and good maintenance practices can extend the lifespan of aging structures and identify potential problems before they become hazards.
  • Investigate and monitor Radon levels on a continuing basis, remediating as needed.
  • Establish a Health & Safety Committee to proactively address safety concerns, conduct risk assessments, and collaborate on effective solutions.
  • Empower your staff with relevant and appropriate safety training sessions that cover emergency procedures, hazard awareness, and best practices.

Need a hand with your Health & Safety responsibilities? Get in touch to discuss how we can assist.

Our content is correct at the date of publishing, but should not be taken as legal advice, and our articles don’t replace Risk Assessments. Armour will not be held accountable for any legal actions the reader may take.