Andrew Paten, Co-Founder of UKNAR CIC – UK National Asbestos Register, talks about the newly founded Community Interest Company and the launch of a simple, smartphone solution that helps responsible dutyholders in local education authorities to safeguard onsite maintenance teams, contractors, pupils and staff, to improve the management of asbestos in the 80% of UK schools where it remains a persistent and potentially deadly issue.
This summer, school buildings are undergoing many internal adaptations to modify the space available for social distancing. Across the UK, maintenance teams and visiting contractors are busy carrying out a variety of minor works to equip school buildings for a ‘new normal’ and a safe return to the classroom in September; whether installing new wash basins and sanitation areas or putting up new health and safety signage. In addition, recent government announcements of increased funding for schools means new larger scale refurbishments and repairs will be scheduled too.
However, this increased activity poses a great concern for community interest company, UKNAR (UK National Asbestos Register). Although there is a greater opportunity to remove asbestos safely with major refurbishments, there is also a significantly increased likelihood of accidental and potentially fatal asbestos disturbances while carrying out minor works, building maintenance and repairs.
Working safely on site during COVID-19
The latest Government guidance for construction site workers was issued in July to support workers and site visitors during the pandemic. It includes guidance on social distancing, as well as managing visitors to site, minimising contact and the number of unnecessary visits. Health and safety on site is under close surveillance, but sadly not when it comes to managing asbestos. According to IOSH, one third of all construction workers have never seen an asbestos register.
Andrew Paten comments: “Now, more than ever, it is absolutely vital that contractors get to see where asbestos may be located so that they don’t disturb it when carrying out their duties or minor works. This critical information is contained in the school asbestos register but actually getting this information into the hands of those that need to see it, every time and without fail, is not always simple.”
Time to scan the asbestos register
Despite active campaigning from various pressure groups, plus a recent voluntary Asbestos Management Assurance Process (AMAP), by the DfE to all schools in England, there appears to be no long-term government plan to tackle the persistent issue of asbestos in schools. UKNAR is taking the lead and proposes now is the right time to make safer asbestos management in schools a key priority to protect everyone associated with school buildings where asbestos is known to be present.
UKNAR is encouraging all schools to sign up to a national database that gives access to Asbestos SMART, a simple, contactless, paperless system to help dutyholders manage their asbestos registers and asbestos risks more effectively and prevent unnecessary asbestos exposures.
The Asbestos SMART system provides 24/7 instant access for contractors and site staff to identify all known asbestos threats in school buildings. This can be done simply by using a smartphone to scan strategically placed notices (on site in a visitor reception area, for example), with a unique QR code to access the register. This is presented in an easy to understand, mobile phone friendly format, taking less than 10 seconds to access. It requires no physical contact with paper or people. In advance of arriving on site contractors can also be emailed a link.
Notices with the Asbestos SMART QR code may also be integrated into contractor signing in procedures and placed in staff rooms, as well as places of high risk.
During this period of disruption, contractors can work efficiently and safely, eliminating the need to interface with reception staff to consult hard copy asbestos registers and dutyholders can have peace of mind that contractors are safely informed of the location of any asbestos risks just by using their smartphone.
Be part of the pilot
Asbestos SMART QR code technology is now being trialled in a small number of UK schools. To test further suitability, UKNAR is extending the reach of the trial by recruiting 50 additional schools to take part in a larger pool of early adopter trials.
Trials will last until the end of 2020 and are free for all schools selected. Information gathered will be used to inform future product development.
If you are a contractor or specifier involved in local authority building maintenance and know a school that would benefit from a free trial of Asbestos SMART, visit uknar.org/asbestos-smart-school-trials or contact Stuart Towers at firstname.lastname@example.org