Posts Tagged ‘asbestos in schools’

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health says the presence of lethal dust fibres in school buildings is a “national scandal”.

In a new report, it warns that 75 per cent of state schools are exposing children, teachers and other staff to the carcinogenic material.

Jim Sheridan MP, Chair of the All-Party Group, said: “This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust. We need both far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses and a programme for its phased removal.”

The report comes after more than 140 teachers died from the rare asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in the past 10 years, with research in the US suggesting over 100 people will die every year in the UK because of exposure at school.

US researchers suggest that for every death of a teacher from asbestos-related diseases, nine children will die. Asbestos-related diseases can take many years to develop so children are more vulnerable over their lifetime.

The Westminster All-Party Group’s report recommends the UK government should start a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.

It also recommends a policy of openness in which parents, teachers and support staff are annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.

Welsh concerns about asbestos in schools were highlighted in April 2009 when occupational hygienist Robin Howie addressed a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”. He added: “I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.”

Mr Howie repeated these concerns in an edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.

In the same programme Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, said the dangers of asbestos was “one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with”.

He stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”

Mr Cox demanded the removal of all asbestos from school buildings.

So what is the latest from the Welsh Government?

In answers to written Assembly questions on January 18, 2012, Wales Education Minister Leighton Andrews, said: “Asbestos is safe if undisturbed and schools should work closely with their respective local authorities to have in place appropriate health and safety plans for staff, pupils and visitors.”

He added: “Locating and dealing with asbestos in schools, including the removal if appropriate is a health and safety matter for schools and local authorities. Local authorities as the building owner and employer have a legal duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 to manage the risks arising from asbestos.”

Councils should know whether “any of their schools contain asbestos in some form or another”, he stated, and are “required to have asbestos surveys undertaken on all premises under their control, and implement an asbestos management system”.

However, it appears unclear as to how many Welsh schools contain asbestos.

“The current and projected categories of condition of school buildings were requested, from local authorities, as part of the revised proposals submitted to the Welsh Government in November 2011,” said Mr Andrews. “However, the level of detail, in terms of schools that may have the presence of asbestos was not considered at this stage of the process, since the written statement  December 2010 related to overall outline programmes and not individual projects.”

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The UK Supreme Court has upheld an historic judgement in which a former pupil took legal action for being exposed to asbestos while at school.

Dianne Willmore died aged 49 of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma on October 15, 2009, the day after she heard that the Appeal Court had upheld a High Court judgement on her case.

The Supreme Court today agreed that Ms Willmore had been negligently exposed to asbestos by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough council when she was at school.

According to the Asbestos in Schools campaign “more than 75 per cent of schools in the country [UK] contain asbestos, with most containing the more dangerous types”.

In February 2011 the Department for Education Asbestos Steering Group, which was established last year, unanimously recommended that the Government commissions an assessment of the asbestos risks to children.

Welsh concerns about asbestos in schools were highlighted in April 2009 when occupational hygienist Robin Howie addressed a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”. He added: “I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.”

Mr Howie repeated these concerns in an edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.

In the same programme Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, said the dangers of asbestos was “one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with”.

He stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”

Mr Cox demanded the removal of all asbestos from school buildings.

The “Hidden Killer” documentary about the levels of asbestos in schools is now available on the Asbestos In Schools website.
The story relates not just to Wales but to the whole of the UK and includes interviews with Scottish asbestos expert Robin Howie and with the HSE.
Just click the ITV Wales link at http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/npaper%20links/Documentaries.htm

Fresh fears are raised today about the way schools are protecting teachers and pupils from potentially-deadly exposure to asbestos.
The leading authority on asbestos, the Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association, took a snapshot of 16 UK schools and found that none was meeting health and safety rules on managing the substance.
It reports: “All of the schools inspected contained asbestos with the majority being of an age and type that would be expected to contain considerable amounts.
“None of the sixteen schools were found to be fully compliant with HSE guidance and only four could be said to have an adequate standard of asbestos management. The majority had unacceptable standards which were either ineffective or unworkable and with the potential to cause a contamination or exposure incident.
“In one school the system of asbestos management was virtually non-existent despite the fact that there was a significant amount of asbestos known to be present.”
According to the chairman of ATAC John O’Sullivan: “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.”
And leading campaigner Michael Lees, whose wife contracted mesothelioma as a teacher and died in 2000, said: “The Government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools has failed, for this report is but further evidence of the appalling standards of asbestos managements in many schools.
“It is unacceptable that in the 21st Century a civilised society has failed to implement measures that protect the most vulnerable people in that society – our children.”
Last year What Is Wales? investigated concerns about asbestos in Welsh schools. Read the report here.

Government lawyers are considering whether to restore compensation rights to sufferers of pleural plaque – a scarring of the lung, mainly caused by exposure to asbestos.
Sufferers, including many in Wales, used to receive compensation – but that was stopped in October 2007 when the Law Lords rejected an appeal against an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal in January 2006. The 2006 appeal was brought by Norwich Union and Zurich Financial Services.
The Law Lords’ decision brought to an end a 20-year right to claim compensation of between £6,000 and £10,000.
But sufferers refused to take the decision lying down. They launched a campaign to get the decision overruled and, in July 2008, the Government announced a year-long consultation on whether to award sufferers of pleural plaques around £5,000 in damages.
The Ministry of Justice promised to publish the results of the consultation by July 21, 2009.
But Justice Secretary Jack Straw then announced instead that a decision would not be made until after the summer recess.
Now Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn (Labour) believes the Government might be getting cold feet about the costs of restoring compensation.
He told the House of Commons this week: “For over 20 years, the courts recognised that this was a compensatable illness. Everyone accepted that, and the insurers and the Government put money aside, until this dreadful decision by the Law Lords. One of the sorriest aspects of the case was that the Law Lords agreed with the lawyers who said that pleural plaques did not constitute a compensatable injury and did not cause any sort of depression or illness.”
Mr Hepburn noted that it is “estimated that pleural plaques sufferers are 1,000 times more likely than any other section of society to develop a more serious form of asbestos-related cancer”.
A recent report by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council said that up to 90,000 people a year may develop pleural plaques, up to 20 years after coming into contact with asbestos.

Are Welsh schoolchildren and teachers sitting on a health time-bomb?
It is a frightening question and one which has been asked increasingly loudly throughout the last few months.
The concern relates to asbestos in our school buildings.
Between the 1960s and 1980s asbestos was widely used in the construction industry, in particular for roofing, spray coating, pipe-lagging, insulation boards and asbestos cement. Any building built or refurbished before 2000 is likely to contain asbestos.
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that half a million non-domestic buildings in the UK feature asbestos.
This figure includes many Welsh school buildings. Indeed, a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this revealed that more than eight of ten school buildings in Wales contains some sort of asbestos.
But how dangerous is it and how worried should teachers, pupils and parents be?
Fibres of asbestos dust cannot be removed from the lung once they have been breathed in. Their inhalation is linked to two forms of mesothelioma (affecting the lining of the lungs and of the abdomen), to lung cancer, asbestosis (in which the lungs develop scaring) and an inflammation of the lung called pleural thickening.
Leading the concerns is respected occupational hygienist Robin Howie. Back in April in the education newspaper SecEd, I reported Mr Howie’s appearance at a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.
Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”.
He added: “These are significantly higher figures than we expect. And if the teachers are showing significantly high on the statistics then what about the children?
“I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.
“In about two-thirds of mesothelioma we cannot identify where the exposure to asbestos occurred. What we do know is that most of those people would have been in school. I think there is a significant risk of mesothelioma in schools containing asbestos.”
Mr Howie repeated these concerns in a recent edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.
For that programme, ‘Hidden Killer’, I also interviewed Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, who said the dangers of asbestos were causing increasing concern for union members.
“I think this is one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with,” he stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”
Mr Cox is demanding the removal of all asbestos from schools as part of the Welsh Assembly Government’s plan to renovate their buildings.
However, the Health and Safety Executive’s policy is to advocate the safe containment of asbestos rather than its removal. The Welsh Local Government Association agrees, stating that “the removal of asbestos would be likely to raise the level of asbestos fibres within the air”.
The HSE’s own figures show that between 1980 and 1985 twenty-one teachers, lecturers and school workers died from mesothelioma. Twenty years later that figure had risen to 92.
However, it questions Mr Howie’s claims about rates of mesothelioma in teachers. It has carried out its own research through epidemiologist Julian Peto.
“The research by Professor Julian Peto, who is a world authority, suggests that the increased levels of deaths, because there is an increased level of at the moment across all those groups, not just teachers, suggests it may be linked to the increased environmental concentration of asbestos in the 60s and 70s which is when people will have got their exposure,” Steve Coldrick, of the HSE, told me.
“There are examples and I’m sure there will continue to be occasionally examples of people in schools being exposed from time to time to either very low levels or occasional levels of asbestos. The important thing to understand is that all the evidence indicates that does not mean either adults or the children are likely to develop these dreadful diseases.”
Asbestos expert Emma Corfield, of Core Surveys, said the majority of asbestos products in schools would be “low risk”, such as asbestos cement, floor tiles and Artex. “It’s when you start talking about the asbestos insulation board and lagging which would probably be in about 25 per cent of schools, nearly 30 per cent, that you are looking at needing a good robust management plan,” she stated.
She said local authorities had to support head-teachers who could not be experts on asbestos as well as educators running schools.
There is no legal requirement on local education authorities to have staff dedicated to asbestos management. At least four of the LEAs questioned by Wales This Week did not have dedicated staff.
The HSE is due to relaunch its asbestos campaign on Monday. The campaign focuses on tradespeople, who make up the vast number of deaths from asbestos-related diseases.
Those whose interest is asbestos in schools believe the campaign should be turning its attention to the education sector too.