Although welcoming the fact that the council is checking the state of the fibres in schools, John McClean, GMB national health and safety officer, admits the union are concerned about the quality of these checks.
“Now that this information is finally out in the open and parents, teachers, staff and governors know exactly which schools contain asbestos we would also be interested in the council’s long-term plans on how to deal with this deadly problem,” he said.“Blanket claims that the asbestos is being managed properly often fail to address the nature of the environment in schools, where the presence and activity of children do not make a typical workplace and exposure to asbestos fibres can occur inadvertently.” The Trade Union Congress (TUC) have recently adopted a proposal, supported by the GMB, calling for all asbestos to be removed from public buildings, including schools, by 2028 and then by all buildings across the UK by 2035. The union are now hoping to meet with the council over the issue.
“The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health believes that the time has come to put in place regulations requiring the safe, phased and planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place across Britain. …..
the dutyholder must develop and implement a plan for the removal of all asbestos which ensures that removal is completed as soon as is reasonably practical but certainly no later than 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, such as schools, this should be done by 2028.”
Express: More than seven million schoolchildren are learning in asbestos-riddled classrooms, which could significantly increase their chances of developing cancer or respiratory problems in later life. New research has revealed that the home counties are the most deadly areas in the country outside London, with more than 200,000 youngsters at risk in Kent alone. In the capital a heart-stopping 1.2m children attend asbestos-riddled schools, according to figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request (FOI). However, despite the clear health dangers schools have no obligation to tell parents whether or not there is asbestos present on the premises. Kate Sweeney from leading law firm Stephensons said: “Many people still think that asbestos is only a threat to factory or trade workers and this simply isn’t the case. The deadly material has been used in all types of buildings since the 1950s and is still present in the majority of schools in the UK due to ageing stock. “These figures are very concerning and the fact that parents have no right to be notified, even more so. “Asbestos can be easily disturbed with a simple pinprick of the wall when hanging up children’s artwork and have a long term effect on the health of anyone exposed. “These findings make a clear case for parents to have better access to information on the measures being taken by local education authorities and schools to protect their children.”….
At the link is a map of England showing the number of children in each County in England at risk in their schools of asbestos exposure
In March 2015 the NUT undertook a short on-line survey of a small sample of members. The responses were helpful in that they confirmed our fears about standards of asbestos management in many schools. The findings also show that while there is a long way to go in terms of getting messages across about the risks to children and the risks to staff, there was near total agreement that there should be a long term strategy on the part of the Government for the eradication of asbestos from schools.
44 per cent of respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. This is quite shocking since most schools (approximately 86 per cent) do contain asbestos. If teachers haven’t been told, that means that not even basic awareness training will have been given.
Of the 46 per cent of respondents who knew that their school contains asbestos, 40 per cent had not been told where it is located, which means that they, and the children they teach, may be in danger of disturbing it
More than 80 per cent of respondents said that parents had not been given information about the presence of asbestos and how it is managed. In the USA annual reports are mandatory.
Very few of the respondents who said that their school does contain asbestos had seen a copy of their school’s asbestos management plan (only 15%)
Of the respondents who knew that their school does contain asbestos, just over a third reported that there had been an incident which may have led to exposure. A selection of comments from respondents on particular incidents is at this link
Over three quarters of respondents were unaware of the growing death toll among teachers linked to asbestos exposure.
An even greater number (nearly 95 per cent) were unaware that Britain has the highest mesothelioma rate in the world.
Only 20 per cent of respondents were aware that children are more at risk than adults from exposure to asbestos fibres, due to the long latency period for mesothelioma.
Only 13 per cent of respondents were aware that schools are not routinely inspected to check how asbestos is being managed….
Legislation Watch:Asbestos and schools: the lessons learnt (Legislation Watch 9 Feb 2015); “If children are exposed to asbestos, they have a greater risk of developing mesothelioma than if exposed in later life. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of teachers developing mesothelioma within the last 10 years… Of the 153 schools visited (by HSE), 20 (13%) were issued with an Improvement Notice… 24 other schools were given “written advice” on improving their controls…. 46% of schools did not have a comprehensive system in place to provide information to those who might disturb asbestos-containing materials… only 39% of schools in England were aware of the DfE’s guidance on managing asbestos in schools…. The competency of surveyors is critical in identifying where asbestos is and in what condition. Yet only 31% of schools could show to the HSE they had checked the competency of the surveyors they used… In relation to Asbestos Management Plans only half of the schools recorded all the details that were required, 33% had no such plans.”
Comment: This article underlines the failure of a significant number of schools to safely manage their asbestos identified in the last round of HSE inspections. It also shows how essential it is to have a system of proactive inspections to identify those schools that are not managing their asbestos safely. However there is now no system in place as HSE are no longer is allowed to carry out these essential safety inspections.