Asbestos in Schools: Update
Probe on asbestos in schools
The House of Commons Select Committee on Education has held an evidence session on 13th March 2013 on the subject of asbestos in schools.
The one-off evidence session focused on the issues relating to asbestos in English schools.
An initial panel of witnesses gave the Committee the opportunity to explore the issues raised with interest groups, experts in the field and individuals with direct experience of the problem.
It was followed by evidence from the Schools Minister and the Health and Safety Executive on relevant government policies.
The session was welcomed by the GMB trade union, which says it represents “an increasing number” of schools support staff potentially at risk from asbestos fibres in schools.
The union claims that more than 75% of state schools contain asbestos, much of it in a dangerous condition.
The union is also concerned that an on-going Department for Education (DfE) audit on the condition of schools to establish refurbishment priorities apparently expressly excludes asbestos.
Commenting on the issue of asbestos in schools, John McClean, the union’s National Safety Officer, said, “GMB welcomes the call for evidence on asbestos in schools. Last year’s report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health & Safety made it clear that a cohesive and clear strategy to deal with this serious matter needed to take place. Hopefully the Education Select Committee which holds its hearing on Wednesday 13th March will reach similar conclusions that enable the DfE to begin dealing comprehensively with this problem.”
Guidance on managing asbestos in schools
The Department for Education (DfE) has published new guidance on managing asbestos in schools for head teachers and other interested stakeholders.
The new asbestos management guidance provides information and advice for those who manage schools or oversee the maintenance and repair of school buildings. The guidance is aimed at head teachers, governors, and other members of the school management team, but will also be of interest to school staff.
A source at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that although the guidance has been produced for schools in England, it includes information and links to useful resources for schools and colleges across Great Britain.
The guide points out that before the health effects of its fibres were fully understood, asbestos was considered a valuable building material as it had high strength and fire resistance. As a result, it was extensively used in schools for fire protection and insulation.
Asbestos can be found in Victorian schools, system-built ones, or traditionally constructed buildings and in schools that were refurbished before its use was banned in 1999.
The DfE says that more than 14,000 schools were built between 1945 and 1975, when the use of asbestos was at its height, and many others were refurbished. More than three-quarters of schools have some buildings that contain asbestos.
The guidance covers:
- the types of asbestos and where it might be found
- diseases related to asbestos exposure
- activities that can accidentally disturb asbestos
- the legislative framework and responsibilities of duty holders
- asbestos records and plans
- training considerations
- consequences of failing to comply with asbestos regulations
- resources on asbestos.
The guide can be accessed at www.education.gov.uk.