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Using SEM Technology to detect asbestos in schools

16th August 2017

Asbestos in schoolsGiven the widespread use of asbestos in building materials and products until it was banned in late 1999, its presence in UK school premises should not come as a surprise. In fact, it has been estimated that more than 75% of schools in the UK have some buildings which contain asbestos containing materials (ACMs). However, there are strict HSE and legal duties on schools aimed at reducing the risks to health that asbestos poses and there should no longer be any excuse for anyone being exposed to potentially dangerous levels of airborne asbestos fibres.

Duty holder responsibility

In particular, duty holders (those with a responsibility for the maintenance and/or repair of premises) are required to assess and manage the risks from asbestos to employees and others, and must ensure that anyone who is likely to work on or disturb, asbestos is provided with information about its location and condition.

Asbestos that is in good condition and unlikely to be damaged or disturbed does not pose significant risk to health, providing it is properly managed. The condition of all school building materials therefore requires careful monitoring and management at all times. Regular inspections and checks by the duty holder of the condition of ACMs are essential and this should include details of any precautionary or safeguarding measures that are required.

Asbestos management

It’s a legal requirement to have an asbestos management plan that incorporates all relevant information about the existence and location of any known or presumed ACMs on school sites. The plan needs to be updated regularly and to be made available to anyone visiting or working on a school site.

SEM technology

The analysis of air filter samples using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is recommended as it’s more effective than standard techniques such as PCM. SEM’s ability to more accurately determine whether asbestos fibres are present means it can better identify the level of any risk that might be present. SEM enables asbestos in air to be quantified to very low levels, achieving lower limits of detection to 0.0005 fibres / cm3 and below, compared to the 0.01 fibres/ cm3 capability of standard phase contrast microscopy (PCM). SEM can also distinguish between different asbestos fibre types using energy dispersive x-ray analysis (EDXA).

As a result, SEM is invaluable for the detailed sampling of ambient or indoor air where the anticipated fibre levels are low or for periodic monitoring of areas to check the potential cumulative exposure on teachers, pupils and those using the premises.

Schools and local authorities are increasingly facing health-related compensation claims and SEM can provide the evidence needed to demonstrate that buildings containing asbestos have been well maintained and that those present have not been exposed to dangerous levels of airborne fibres.

Click here to download our white paper and read more about the beneficial role SEM can play in managing asbestos in schools.

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