Asbestos - time for action

The NUT has supported the publication of a report into asbestos in UK schools. The report 'Asbestos in Schools - The need for action' exposes the level of danger in Britain’s schools, and makes a compelling case for urgent action.

In the past 10 years more than a 140 teachers have died from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, which is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. Last year, the Department for Education (DfE) revealed that its 'best estimate' was that more than three-quarters of schools contain asbestos. The Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health's chairman, Jim Sheridan, said: "This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust."

Sheridan continued: "We need both far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses and a programme for its phased removal."

The report, published in February, makes six clear recommendations:

  1. The Government should set a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority being given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.
  2. Standards in asbestos training should be set and the training should be mandatory. The training should be properly funded.
  3. It is recommended that the DfE and HSE jointly develop asbestos guidance specifically for schools and that current standards be reviewed.
  4. A policy of openness should be adopted. Parents, teachers and support staff should be annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.
  5. Pro-active inspections to determine the standards of asbestos management should be reinstated, with a view to reducing future costs.
  6. Data should be collected centrally on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools and this becomes an integral part of the data collection of the condition of the nation’s schools.

Commenting on a report, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the intervention of the APPG on the issue of asbestos in schools. The NUT was the first teachers’ union to campaign to have asbestos removed from schools and yet despite the problem being brought to the attention of successive governments, it is still the case that asbestos remains in most schools.

Last year, a BBC Look East investigation has revealed more people than ever before are dying from Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining caused by asbestos dust. Asbestos was often used in fireproofing and insulation from the 1950s until the mid 1980s. It becomes dangerous when disturbed and if the fibres are inhaled it can cause fatal mesothelioma and debilitating asbestosi.

Work related deaths
According to the Health and Safety Executive, inhaling asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, accounting for 4000 deaths annually. US researchers have also found that for every death of a teacher from asbestos-related disease, nine children will die. Children are more vulnerable as they have longer than adults to develop diseases related to the material.

A DfE spokesman said the welfare of pupils and staff was paramount: “It is unacceptable for any school not to comply with the strict statutory asbestos guidance – no ifs or buts. HSE’s expert advice is based on the best current evidence. It is absolutely clear that if asbestos is not disturbed or damaged, then it is safer to leave it in situ, with strong systems in place to contain and monitor it.”

Concerns raised
Corncerns were again raised after the death of a teacher in December who had worked at North Leamington School in the Midlands. The teacher, who died from an asbestos related disease, was in her 50s and had worked at North Leamington School in the midlands. The NUT said she had done most of her teaching at the school’s former buildings, constructed in the 1950s when asbestos was in common use. These were demolished in 2009.

An inquest after the teacher’s death in December recorded a verdict of death from an industrial disease. Health and safety inspectors are not investigating the death as they say it is impossible to tell whether the disease was caused by exposure to asbestos at North Leamington School, another school, or away from school altogether. But officials from the NUT say asbestos should be taken out of all schools to be on the safe side.

Download the report online by clicking here

Further information