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Asbestos in system-built structures

Dangerous levels of asbestos may be present in old system-built buildings, particularly schools, even if they have been previously inspected.

Structures using prefabricated panels were widely used until the 1980s to provide rapid expansion of schools, but also in other public sector construction such as offices and railway buildings and some housing.

The construction system goes under many names, originating with CLASP developed by local authorities which was spun off in SCOLA and MACE.

They were modular buildings using prefabricated steel frames with a variety of claddings according to usage and design.

Asbestos containing materials including AIB (Asbestos Insulating Board) were used extensively for heat insulation, fireproofing, floor coverings, ceiling tiles and wall panels.  In addition to the recorded use of such materials, they were also used to replace other materials during repair and maintenance.  It has also been reported that offcuts were left hidden inside columns, boxings or ceiling voids.

Even where the surface is painted or plastered, AIB can be readily broken, giving significant fibre release. Also significant surface release is possible by abrasion, sawing and drilling. In time asbestos materials degrade and release fibres into the air in the void.

The HSE published ‘Guidance on the management of asbestos in system built premises’ (last revised in 2008) as a result of a working group set up to advise on the potential asbestos fibre release in CLASP and other similar system built schools. In essence the guidance required the sealing of voids which potentially contained asbestos fibres.

An extensive report ‘Release of Asbestos fibred in System Built Schools’* was published by Michael Lees of  Schools Asbestos Action, which claimed that sealing was insufficient as normal wear and tear, such as slammed doors or bumping into walls – not uncommon in schools - could lead to the release of fibres into the air.   In addition dust from degraded asbestos left in voids can be released in maintenance work.

This report concluded that sealing was only a temporary solution and that more air sampling and regular inspections should be carried out, particularly if substantial maintenance is planned, even where buildings had been treated and judged satisfactory.

Broadland Group carries out asbestos surveys in all types of building.  Our laboratories are UKAS accredited for the testing of asbestos and staffed and equipped to provide the rapid service essential to allow buildings to be maintained or returned to service as quickly as possible.

*Click here to see the report.