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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Asbestos in Schools - Mis-Management & Poor Communication Puts Lives at Risk

It’s well-known that schools originally built in the 1940-1960s have asbestos lurking in their rafters. But why hasn’t anything been done about it yet?

School children across the country are unknowingly sharing their educational environment with the killer substance, asbestos. And it’s not just the children who are at risk, teachers too, spent day after day at their desks in classrooms that were constructed using asbestos. In the years when the deadly dangers weren’t known asbestos was an ideal material to use for insulating pipes and as a cheap alternative to concrete. These days, school administrators are supposed to have an Asbestos Management Plan or at least an asbestos safety policy to follow if any building work is planned in the school. But after 25,000 schools were tested in a random sample, and found to be lacking in safety policies, or management plans, it’s clearly not a safety system that’s working.

The report findings were so unsettling that it has prompted a demand for change in the current government policy. This policy is based on the fact that asbestos is safe so long as it is undisturbed. The Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association (ATAC) says: "The increasing number of mesothelioma deaths amongst teachers and support staff is testament that the policy of management has failed.'' This failure to look after teachers and pupils has been highlighted recently with news that a construction firm has been fined for not informing its workers of the presence of asbestos in a school classroom when it was contracted to carry out renovation work. The construction company had a Type 3 asbestos survey in its possession, but didn’t pass this information on to the employees. 

The Health and Safety inspector also revealed that children were being taught in an adjacent room when the asbestos was disturbed, which potentially puts them at risk of asbestos related diseases, like mesothelioma, in the future.

The Health and Safety Executive figures show that 228 teachers died from asbestos-related diseases between 1991 and 2005, which is an unacceptable figure. Asbestos is present in most schools and can be found in ceiling tiles, wall boards and insulation. The current government policy of safely managing asbestos is simply to monitor the existence and location of the deadly material within the school itself. 

However there’s been no move yet to make sure that every school is legally obliged to keep a record of who is responsible for asbestos management on site, or have a record of where the asbestos is situated within the school grounds. This could mean that any maintenance carried out by external contractors might disturb the deadly material and cause asbestos dust to be inhaled by teachers and pupils. In order to deal with the issue, asbestos surveys need to be conducted and openly published for everyone to access in order to protect staff and children in their schools. Schools and colleges have recently been dealt a further blow because of the cancellation of funding from the government for redeveloping schools.

If you’re a teacher, or former teacher, and you’ve been affected by asbestos, please contact our legal helpline now on 0808 129 3320 for advice on how we can help you.

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