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Update on Asbestos in Schools

Update - 2 February 2009

On the 28th January 2009 BBC Inside Out broadcast a report on the issue of asbestos in schools in the South East which has wide implications for schools throughout the UK.

A Freedom of Information request had determined that `of the 1606 schools in Kent, Sussex and Surrey 1499 contain asbestos. Filming took place in a secondary school in Kent, which had been offered for the report as the authorities believed that their asbestos management was effective.

However when experienced asbestos consultants carried out an inspection they identified errors in the asbestos management that had allowed damage to be caused to asbestos materials and fibres had been released. As a result the HSE issued an Improvement Notice. This school is no different from many others with a good conscientious headmaster and staff. Despite this, through a lack of asbestos awareness and training, they were unaware of the inherent dangers and the necessity to have a rigorous system of asbestos management.  The lessons learnt at this school apply to many other schools in the country. 

The BBC interviewed the HSE Head of Services Sector who denied that that there is an asbestos problem in schools, in addition she claimed when the asbestos is sealed in place it represents no risk to health. When asked why a national audit of asbestos in schools has never been carried out she claimed that an audit would not be proportionate to the risk.

All the evidence is that her statements are not correct for most schools contain asbestos, much is deteriorating and there are frequent asbestos incidents resulting in the release of asbestos fibres.  Follow this link to see an analysis of the BBC interview with the HSE Services Sector.

A national audit and an assessment of the risks is essential and have been called for by MPs, the teaching unions and others for the last twenty five years, but successive Governments have refused. Follow this link for a chronological list of refusals to undertake an audit and risk assessment.

The HSE claim that the reason is not cost, but they are incorrect, for confidential documents show that cost is the overriding reason. Follow this link for extracts from confidential documents that show that cost is the motivation.

On 3rd February 2009 is the meeting of the Parliamentary asbestos sub-committee where the Liberal Democrats Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, the Teaching unions, the medical profession and others will join the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Safety and Health in his call for the Government to undertake:

  • A national audit of asbestos in the Nation’s school.
  • A risk assessment with particular emphasis on the risks to children.
  • Reinstate the campaign to improve the asbestos management in schools.