Scale of asbestos in schools “deeply worrying”
Schools with asbestos in their buildings must ensure they manage it effectively to prevent staff and students from contracting incurable cancers like mesothelioma.
The warning from the global body for workplace health and safety professionals comes as the scale of the issue of asbestos in the England’s school buildings is brought fully into focus by results from the Department for Education’s Asbestos Management Assurance Process.
Of nearly 25,000 English schools and academies, 19,522 responded to the process, with 676 referred to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) because they haven’t provided enough evidence that they are “managing asbestos in line with regulatory requirements”.
Fiona Riley, Chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Education Group, said: “It is deeply worrying that so many schools and academies have failed to provide sufficient evidence that they are properly managing asbestos.
“It is equally concerning that a huge number of schools and academies, about a quarter, have not responded to this request.
“Asbestos is a killer and we know it lurks in many hundreds of thousands of buildings, including those occupied by schools and academies built more than 20 years ago.
“It is imperative that schools and academies know if asbestos is present in their buildings and, if it is, have a robust management plan in place to ensure staff and students are not exposed to it.”
IOSH has been raising awareness of the risks posed by asbestos during its No Time to Lose campaign to tackle cancers caused by work. It has produced free, easy-to-use resources for employers and employees to prevent asbestos exposure.
Fiona added: “Schools and other employers can use these resources. They guide them through the process of identifying asbestos and how to manage it. They can save lives.”
At least 5,000 people die every year from cancer caused by asbestos exposure at work. Victims include teachers and others exposed in schools.
While asbestos has been banned in Britain since November 1999, it can still be found in hundreds of thousands of buildings constructed prior to this date.
Lucie Stephens, whose mum died from mesothelioma, is calling for asbestos to be removed from all school buildings. Sue Stephens, a teacher for 30 years, died in 2016, aged 68.
Lucie also wants to see greater transparency around which schools contain asbestos and how it is managed.
“I’m delighted that the Department for Education has finally undertaken work to understand the extent of asbestos in our schools. It is long, long overdue,” she said.
“There have been over 600 schools reported to the HSE for failure to manage their asbestos safely. This is cause for serious alarm. How many teachers and pupils will pay the price for this?
“My mum paid with her life due to a failure to safely manage and remove asbestos. It is long overdue but the DfE, with earmarked funds from the Treasury, must now commit to phased removal of asbestos from schools, starting with the most dangerous schools.
“And every school that contains asbestos must now be required to produce an annual report detailing the extent of asbestos, how it is managed and when it will be removed.”