Asbestos in Schools
Newsletter 115
11 Oct 2010

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Nick Gibb (Minister of State for Schools) when in Opposition said that the problem of asbestos in schools should not be swept under the carpet. He now appears to be doing precisely that because of the potential cost of taking effective action to protect staff and children.

Ministers now appear to be manipulating the HSE to produce results that ensure no action need be taken. For example:

There is a government report by a headteacher about the management of health and safety in schools including the management of asbestos. It was finished at the end of July. Publication has been withheld so it is unlikely to be available for Oct 14th when a Ministerial Meeting with the Asbestos in Schools Group determines action.

The Government claim to have recently completed a “survey ...The first ever national audit” to assess asbestos management in schools. It was, in fact, a flawed questionnaire to local authorities and dioceses. Dorset County Council said: I’m concerned about the quality of this questionnaire and the potential for misinterpretation when the contents are analysed. It does not show the full picture of asbestos management and only concentrates on a very small area. The questions are confusing and potentially misleading (far too open to interpretation).”

A senior asbestos consultant, John Richards says: “The questionnaire has not examined the detail required for asbestos management and many questions such as annual re-inspections have been carefully avoided……. it is important that we understand the basic requirement of this document, is to ensure all in the garden is rosy.”

The Government on BBC Radio 4 You and Yours, using the HSE, launched a publicity campaign for the flawed report to coincide with the Ministerial meeting. The representative was misleading about the scope of the report. He claimed that all was well if asbestos was in good condition and undisturbed and says that “Teachers are not at increased risks from asbestos.” He claimed that removal of asbestos was not practical.

The facts are as follows:

  • Asbestos in many schools is not in good condition. It has deteriorated over the 23 years since it was first discovered that dangerous levels of asbestos fibres were released when children slammed doors or hit walls in our schools.
  • As a result many more teachers die than should in a profession where one would expect minimal or no asbestos exposure. 64 teachers have died of asbestos related cancer in the last five years.
  • Teachers’ deaths are the tip of an iceberg as children are more vulnerable but the Government refuses to analyse the risk to children fearing the cost of having to take effective protective action.
  • Effective management and openness is essential if the Government has decided it is too costly to remove asbestos

Government refuses to assess the scale of the problem or undertake a risk assessment for children. This is clearly essential knowledge when the Minister and his officials are making a cost benefit analysis of predicted children deaths in later life weighed against the cost of preventing asbestos contamination in schools.

On October 14th the Minister will be asked to confirm that he will:

  • Task the Government’s advisory committee on science, WATCH, to assess the risks to children from asbestos in schools
  • Conduct a comprehensive and proper audit to determine the standards of asbestos management in schools
  • Assess the schools that contain the most dangerous asbestos and prioritise them for refurbishment or replacement
  • Continue the DfE Steering Group to improve asbestos management in schools

It seems unlikely he will as Government representatives are already calling these basic steps in risk management alarmist demands to remove all asbestos from schools.

The meeting planned for 14th October with the Minister of State was cancelled and, later, the Junior Minister, Lord Hill, substituted. The experts feel that the truth, however unpalatable and without “spin” should be addressed openly by the Minister of State for Schools who is fully briefed and has, in Opposition, asked a number of searching parliamentary questions on the issue.

The meeting should be followed by sensible, pragmatic action with all parties committed to openness and to working together in the interests of staff and children in schools.


HSE press release into compliance with asbestos guidance for system built schools:

You and Yours Asbestos in schools 7th October 2010:
The interview:
it is 7 minutes 10 seconds into the clip
Comment on HSE interview for You and Yours: AND YOURS COMMENT 8 Oct 10.pdf

Further information:
HSE commissioned a study by a headmaster into senior health and safety management in schools, completed end July 2010. Contact : David Bryant HSE Head of Government, Defence and Education 


John Richards  01480 891800
Michael Lees 01409 241496 mob 07910 947362


Richard Lees

This email is written by Richard Lees. It is based on research by Michael Lees, my brother. He is more expert on asbestos in schools than I am so this email and statements made by me should not be quoted as being from Michael Lees, or necessarily approved by him.

Michael Lees authoritative research can be seen at; that is approved by him, closely referenced with sources and can be quoted. You can also contact us as shown below







The following topics are covered:
Minister's tactics to avoid costs of protecting children in school from asbestos
Teachers deaths and the condition of asbestos in schools
Minister has made spending decisions without assessing the risk to children
Decisions for Ministerial Meeting on Oct 14th


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