Asbestos In Schools – A View From The Inside
Put ‘asbestos’ into any internet search engine and lots of relevant statutory information and advertising appears. However put ‘asbestos in schools’ into a search engine and lots of worrying information appears. If you want to know why this is, look at the facts;
- The Governments own figures show asbestos is still present in around 80% of UK schools
- The Governments own committee on carcinogenicity has suggested younger lungs are more vulnerable to asbestos
- Teachers are disproportionately dying of Mesothelioma, one of the worst cancers
So what is the problem, if we have appropriate legislation concerning the ‘management of asbestos’?
We do have appropriate legislation to cover all aspects of asbestos within the school environment. This includes the duty to retain a register of the asbestos, a management plan and appropriate training for those likely to be affected by asbestos. There are however two fundamental problems with the whole process. Firstly, there is a real knowledge and understanding gap within the hierarchy of schools. Heads and teachers are under enormous pressure to achieve results whilst having limited support on health and safety issues, particularly in smaller schools. School Governors are often part time and inexperienced in these important matters. Independent schools or schools outside the control of the local authority are often more at risk of the problems associated with asbestos as they don’t have the centralised support and experience readily available.
Secondly, the HSE don’t really have the capacity to get on top of the problem. They have been underfunded for years and seen their budgets cut. This has affected their ability to police the industry, despite what they may say publicly.
Our position as an asbestos surveying and management company gives us a unique viewpoint on the problem. We access schools on a daily basis to give advice, undertake surveys and management inspections. Therefore we can see first-hand the problems the schools experience. There are some great schools out there with excellent practice, but unfortunately these are in the minority. The main problems we see are;
- Lack of knowledge, leadership, awareness
- Old outdated survey information
- Management plans which are not fit for purpose
- Damaged asbestos materials in areas where staff and children are working
- Lack of money to address any problems
So what is the solution?
Currently it needs all parties to pull in the same direction. This must come from the top, from government (supported by the HSE) with money to back it up. It should be mandatory for anyone who works in a school (teachers, cleaners, contractors etc.)to receive appropriate ‘asbestos awareness training’. There should be regular meetings in schools who have asbestos, to ensure the ‘plan’ is working. There should be a national database showing what asbestos is present in which school, accessible by contractors at the appropriate time. This will allow greater accountability and transparency.
Our survey team were recently in a large secondary school and I have seen pictures of damaged asbestos products where children and staff were present. It’s depressing and demoralising to see. Separately, I provide free asbestos advice to my daughter’s school because I can, but others do not have the luxury.
If you need any advice or help with asbestos, particularly in the education sector, we provide it free. Please give us a call on 0800 141 2676.