Asbestos in Schools  
Update 133 12 May 2014

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1. Government fund will meet asbestos related claims from former pupils.

We are pleased to announce that the Government is setting up a central fund to meet asbestos related claims from former pupils and non-employees. The Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA) is for academies, free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools. It provides cover for various risks including asbestos risks cover for pupils and non-employees where commercial insurance cover was not previously available.

AiS first raised the matter with the Government more than two years ago in a Parliamentary question in March 2012. The Government confirmed that in general insurance cover is not available for pupils and non-employees in schools. Local authorities self insure but academies and free schools do not necessarily have the funds to do so. AiS therefore argued for a scheme to be set up that would meet any future claims from former pupils. The RPA will provide that cover. Further details are at this link.

Please widely circulate the following warnings

2. HSE warning: “No gas masks should be worn or handled by children or teachers.”

HSE have considerably strengthened their warning about gas masks that have been worn and handled by staff and pupils in lessons about the War. They have issued the following advice to the Departments of Education in England, Scotland and Wales: “No gas masks should be worn or handled by children or teachers... unless it is clearly certified as safe to do so.”

A large number of WWII gas masks have been sold on E-Bay and other sites. HSE and Trading Standards are taking measures to prevent the future sale and postage of the masks that contain asbestos as it is prohibited under the law.

HSE carried out tests on various types of vintage gas masks both from WWII and later. They found that the majority contain asbestos, although some did not. However one cannot tell by looking at them which do and which do not.

See a warning issued by JUAC and the AiS in October 2013

3. HSE warning: WW1 steel helmets should not be worn or handled.

In the centenary year of WW1 schools could also use steel helmets in lessons. The Imperial War Museum has found that the majority of WW1 helmets contain chrysotile in the inner padding. HSE has issued a warning that they should not be worn or handled unless clearly certified as safe to do so.


4. Government review of asbestos policy for schools.

At a meeting of the Department for Education Asbestos Steering Group on 30th April the responses to the call for evidence were considered as part of the policy review. There were a number of common themes and recommendations, amongst which was that:

  • The Committee on Carcinogenicity’s conclusion that children are more vulnerable to exposure to asbestos should underlie all future decisions and policy.
  • Long term strategic policies should be adopted by the Government. Present policies are short term. All political parties should work together to solve the many problems associated with asbestos in schools.
  • A policy of progressive removal should be adopted. The most dangerous materials identified and removed.
  • Concern that academies and free schools do not necessarily have the skills or resources to safely manage their asbestos.
  • There was concern about the lack of asbestos awareness amongst governors, headteachers, teachers and support staff and a recommendation to introduce mandatory training.
  • It is recommended that the Government collates information on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools. A cost benefit analysis can then be completed which should be open to Parliamentary and public scrutiny.
  • Workplace asbestos fibre levels should not be applied to the occupants of schools. An environmental fibre level should be set that is significantly lower than present levels.
  • A policy of openness should be adopted so that staff and parents are informed of the measures to make their schools safe from the dangers of asbestos.

A full list of the AiS and Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) recommendations is at this link. The AiS response to the policy review is at this link. The JUAC response is at this link.

DfE will publish a report at the end of June which will take stock of the evidence and key propositions that have been put forward and outline a programme for delivery - including scope and timings - for the full outcomes of the DfE policy review.

5. Unions’ surveys of members show a lack of asbestos awareness in schools.

As part of the DfE policy review the National Association of Headteachers and JUAC carried out surveys  of their members. Overall the results reveal a disappointing picture of lack of knowledge and awareness in many areas. The majority of the 1,300 responses from the JUAC survey were teaching assistants which is indicative of high levels of concern among this group of staff: 43% of the headteachers, 59% of the governing body and 90% of the teaching assistants had not received asbestos training. This is of concern as the headteachers and governors have responsibilities for ensuring asbestos is safely managed in schools, and the teaching assistants are the very people who are likely to disturb asbestos by displaying the children’s work with staples or drawing pins in AIB, hang mobiles and decorations from suspended ceilings or take books out of stationary cupboards. 
These surveys underline that there is an urgent need for mandatory asbestos training for headteachers, governors, teachers and support staff in schools.

6. School awaiting sentencing for failing to ensure safety of pupils from asbestos

Bloomfield Collegiate is a grammar school in Belfast.  The school authorities pleaded guilty to failing to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises by not having a suitable asbestos survey in their primary school building and pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that non-employees were not exposed to the risks of asbestos. No plea was entered on the third count of failing to ensure the health and safety of all employees, but a decision on how to plead will be made this week, when sentencing will be passed.

Since 2004 there has been a duty on those who own or control premises to identify if any asbestos materials are present. However, it wasn't until May 2012 that the school carried out a survey in the preparatory school which uncovered asbestos-containing materials. Four days later the Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive found “High levels of asbestos fibres in the air. They also found asbestos debris in the back of some cupboards.  The survey found that staff, contractors and children using the building were at risk of exposure to the asbestos.”
The private primary school was built in the late 1960s and was used up until the summer of 2011. However, it was also used as an after-schools facility, a pre-school for children under primary age and a kindergarten. The building was used regularly by girls from the main school along with teachers, cleaners and administration staff.


Michael Lees:
Tel: 01409 241496
mob: 0791 0947362


Authoritative research can be seen at; that is closely referenced with sources, has a search facility so you can find your specific interest and can be quoted. You can also contact us as shown below or by replying to this email.






1. Government fund will meet asbestos related claims from former pupils.
2. HSE warning: “No gas masks should be worn or handled by children or teachers.”
3. HSE warning: WW1 steel helmets should not be worn or handled
4. Government review of asbestos policy for schools
5. Unions’ surveys of members show a lack of asbestos awareness in schools.




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