Asbestos In Schools
A national asbestos trade union campaign group is strongly advising the Government to prioritise the health of children and staff in schools. Its members are urging the government to abandon its plans to make the governors of all state-funded schools accountable for the health and safety of their pupils and staff, which will happen if it hands over the responsibility from local authorities to school governors.
The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) commented that a recent judgement against the University of Lincoln, which exposed staff to asbestos fibres, identified how easily things can go wrong if asbestos is not properly handled in schools.
It demonstrates how crucial it is that the Government does not transfer responsibility away from local authorities who have the specialist understanding and resources to help local authority schools safely maintain their asbestos.
Julie Winn, Chair of JUAC, today said that if the school governors ultimately become the employer, they will have to assume full legal responsibilities for the health and safety of their staff and pupils.
Ms Winn, also a former chair of governors, said: “Governors volunteer their expertise in their own free time to help schools but it is too much to ask of them and it is hard to envisage how Governors will handle this extra responsibility with such little resource and time available.
“Even though more than 75% of all schools in the UK contain asbestos, there is currently no specific school guidance for the management of asbestos or any specific training on the handling of asbestos in schools. The Government has also got rid of the school health and safety inspections that made sure they were maintaining safe standards.
“This is another attempt to deregulate without any proper thought of the practical effect on the risk to the health and safety of staff and pupils in UK schools. We fear these changes will put more staff and pupils at risk of potentially deadly exposure to asbestos. The UK already has the highest incidence of mesothelioma deaths in the world, with teacher deaths from mesothelioma increasing year on year.”
Michael Lees, founder of the Asbestos in Schools Group (AIS), said:
“This proposal will inevitably put staff and pupils at risk. Asbestos can kill unless it is effectively managed and the best local authorities have the right knowledge so they can maintain the rigorous standards. It will also impose an unbelievable burden on governors and if something does go wrong then legal action will be taken against the governors instead of the local authority. One must question how many people will volunteer to be governors if that is the case.”
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said:
“These proposals will do nothing to protect children and teachers from the threat of poorly-managed asbestos in schools. Governors will be left to manage school buildings – around three quarters of which contain asbestos – without access to local authority support and expertise. This is a huge responsibility. With the UK having the highest incidence of mesothelioma deaths in the world and with teacher deaths from mesothelioma increasing year on year, asbestos exposure in schools is a grave concern. It is high time the Government started treating it as such.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said:
“The government needs to put the health and safety of children and school staff first - it must not be sacrificed for deregulation. The safe management of asbestos in our schools is too important to leave to chance, and is already too piecemeal and poorly managed in many schools. Unless asbestos management in schools improves more pupils and school staff will be at risk and their lives will be potentially endangered. It is hard to see how transferring the management of asbestos to school governors will bring about an improvement.”