We have an ‘unstoppable momentum’ in the fight against asbestos in schools ….. We now know, because of the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC), for example, that children are far more vulnerable than was originally thought and it is acknowledged that schools need to be viewed differently to other places of work. That is because of the pressure that has been put to bear in the last few years…“We are now talking about this in a way we weren’t two decades ago. The debate is based around knowledge and information, and we have that evidence on our side. That in itself gives me great hope for the future… The figures speak for themselves. Between 1980 and 1985 there were 15 recorded mesothelioma deaths among school teachers – just three per year. In 2012 alone, there were 22. The numbers are set to continue to rise as the links have become more evident. Around 75 per cent of UK state schools contain asbestos and there is now further research estimating that as many as 300 former pupils could be dying every year from exposure while they were at school. These pupils are dying in their 40s and 50s because of the long latency period. In recent years, Mr Lees has been a member of the Department for Education’s Asbestos Steering Group, which advises ministers, and he was a founder of the campaigning organisation, Asbestos in Schools. He also sits on the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, which comprises membership from 10 teaching and related trade unions. Those groups encouraged the creation of the CoC, adding medical expertise to the debate.
“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.”
BBC News: Take lead on asbestos in schools, Welsh Government told. BBC News 30 July Lawyer Cenric Clement-Evans told BBC Wales he wanted the government to set up an advisory group and create a Wales-wide policy. The Welsh government and UK government have disagreed over whether the matter is devolved. Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, after a link was established to lung diseases including mesothelioma. In England, the government published a similar policy in March this year, but there is uncertainty over who has responsibility in Wales.
Mr Clement-Evans, a lawyer from the Right to Know: Asbestos in Schools Wales campaign, said: “I don’t care who takes responsibility, I want somebody to take responsibility… “This is too important to get embroiled in some form of party politics or some big issues between the Welsh government and the UK government”.. “I think that the way is fairly straightforward, not the managing of the issue but the putting together of a steering group, deciding policy.” ..”I don’t think it’s difficult to start that ball rolling.”
Between 2003 and 2012, 224 people in Britain whose last occupation was recorded as “teaching professional” died of mesothelioma… The rate of deaths is rising, but only in line with overall mesothelioma deaths, which amounted to 21,957 during this same period… One of those was Gwyneth Bonnet. ..She was a college lecturer and teacher in Llangefni, Anglesey, in the 1990s and thought she came into contact with asbestos at Coleg Menai’s old Pencraig college campus…
European Committees 24 June: Asbestos related deaths predicted to double those of road deaths. .. the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) heard .. testimony from some of Europe’s top experts on asbestos… placing the total number of estimated deaths in Europe at 47,000 per year, 50% higher than previously thought and double those related to road accidents. Children and teachers in schools, DIY enthusiasts and maintenance workers are …. increasingly at risk from asbestos infested buildings across Europe…. Asbestos was used extensively in buildings erected between 1961 and 1990, with millions of tonnes still present in buildings, not only putting building and maintenance workers at risk but potentially anybody present or occupying the property…. Over 80% of schools in one country alone, the United Kingdom, still contain asbestos… “Member States and the European Institutions need to take action now to head off this emerging public health crisis. National Action Plans need to be implemented and the European Commission should prioritize its response to this major risk to public health across all policy areas. We are talking about a lot more than traditionally exposed factory workers, now extending our concern to the children in our schools ………Mauro D’Attis, CoR rapporteur … strongly regretted the fact that asbestos removal is not high on the EU political agenda, emphasizing the lack of political will to deal with an issue that kills thousands of people annually. “We need a rigorous analysis of existing risks and an effective model for registering asbestos presence in buildings”
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….
The revised guidance is aimed at school leaders, governors, local authorities and academy trusts.
It is essential that guidance is also aimed at teachers and support staff. The guidance this replaces was, and we have asked DfE to ensure the secondary guidance is.
DfE responded “Please be assured that we do intend to make that more detailed information, with pictures and examples, available to schools by publishing a secondary reference document that will be clearly signposted and linked to in the attached document. This decision has been taken so that we can produce a brief, more approachable primary guidance document that can have the widest possible audience in schools but also includes links to where those who need more information can find it.”
DfE also stated that they would include a warning about warm air cabinet heaters in their revised guidance. It is not in this revised guidance and so we are seeking confirmation that it will be included in the secondary reference document.
As the assessment of risk is based on the ‘Risk Algorithm’, it is most disappointing that eight months later HSE have still not responded to our criticisms of the present algorithm being unsuitable for schools and our proposal for a review.
NUT conference 7 April. Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “The continuing presence of asbestos in our schools is a scandal. Nearly 90% of schools still contain asbestos and teachers are dying in increasing numbers. In 2012 alone there were 22 teacher deaths from mesothelioma. .. The Coalition Government has not acknowledged that there is a serious problem with asbestos in schools and as a consequence has, despite its recent Asbestos in Schools Review, failed to provide a long term strategy to address the problem. … We want to see nothing less than a complete national audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in our schools. In the short to medium term asbestos must be better managed. In the long term, however, any future government must make real steps towards the removal of asbestos in schools, so that this threat to pupils, teachers and other school staff can finally be eradicated.”
Comment: The debate was excellent and there were cross party well informed contributions from MPs. The Hansard report lengthy but worth reading. The matter is out in the open, and the Government have publicly acknowledged there is a problem. Consequently whichever party forms the next Government will have to continue to build on the policies that have now been put in place.