We have known the dangers of asbestos in the UK for years and have read hundreds of scary articles detailing all the hazards that our children might be facing at their schools and academies. The question is, where does truth become exaggeration and fact become fear-mongering? Is the threat of asbestos being taken seriously by the government and by school administrators?
A 2012 government study on Asbestos in UK Schools, updated in March 2014, aimed to answer some of these questions once and for all.
What danger does asbestos pose?Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that was used in the years after the Second World War to insulate thousands of buildings in the UK, including schools. Materials that contain asbestos can be harmless if left undisturbed, but if they become damaged they can potentially release hazardous fibres into the air. Asbestos management contractors OCS Environmental Services have described how ‘construction, damage or decay can easily lead to asbestos contamination'. While studies haven’t managed to accurately work out the number of pupils that were affected by these fibres, as symptoms can take decades to appear, we do know that more than 267 teachers have died from asbestos-related diseases since 1980.
As symptoms take so long to appear, a study by a governmental advisory committee found that young children are five times more likely to develop mesothelioma (an asbestos-related disease) in their lifetime than adults who are exposed for the same length of time.
What’s the situation in today’s schools?
75% of state schools in Britain today contain asbestos, and significant problems have been found in maintenance and monitoring in schools across the country. The 2012 study has described some of the common faults in asbestos policies in schools, which include a lack of proper awareness and training, ineffective management plans and some areas containing asbestos remaining unidentified.
An online survey carried out by the NationalUnion of Teachers in 2015 found that 44% of teachers who responded hadn’t been told if their school contained asbestos. This means that children could be playing and learning near asbestos materials on a daily basis, with teachers who are completely unaware of potential dangers.
The Chairman of ATAC (Asbestos Teaching and Consulting) has said that ‘These are not minor problems that have crept in over recent years; rather they are fundamental problems that are endemic in schools in the UK.’
What is being done to make schools safer?
The UK Department for Education has an extensive guide for school leaders on how they should be managing asbestos in their institutions, including what to do if there is ‘unplanned disturbance of asbestos’.All staff, not just teachers and administration, should be trained in asbestos management and visitors should be told the location of asbestos in school buildings. What we don’t know is how much of this training is actually being carried out in schools across the UK.
The HSE has a checklist for asbestos management that school safety representatives are required to use if their school is found to contain asbestos materials. There is also a handy FAQ on the HSE website that answers many of the most common questions parents have about asbestos in school buildings.
What can I do?
As a parent it is worth contacting your child’s school and asking if there is any asbestos on the premises and, if so, whether all the teachers are aware of its location. Asbestos can be vulnerable to stray footballs, vandalism and general childish rough and tumble, so it is worth checking that the school doesn’t have asbestos materials anywhere that they could be damaged or disturbed by pupils.
The maintenance of asbestos materials can form part of the general maintenance of the school, so if you visit the building and there are signs of dilapidation, especially in roof tiles and walls, this may be a cause for concern. While many schools are imposing new measures to try and ensure the safety of pupils in buildings that contain asbestos the issue is often far from the top of the agenda.
As long as asbestos materials are surveyed and regularly checked they shouldn’t pose a danger to pupils, but if you have any worries in this area it can be reassuring to contact the school and ask about their asbestos management procedures.
*This post contains sponsored content.
*This post contains sponsored content.