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Asbestos in Schools

NUT Asbestos Survey

Summary of Findings - May 2015

In March 2015 the NUT undertook a short on-line survey of a small sample of members. The responses were helpful in that they confirmed our fears about standards of asbestos management in many schools.  The findings also show that while there is a long way to go in terms of getting messages across about the risks to children and the risks to staff, there was near total agreement that there should be a long term strategy on the part of the Government for the eradication of asbestos from schools.

  • 44 per cent of respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos.  This is quite shocking since most schools (approximately 86 per cent) do contain asbestos.  If teachers haven’t been told, that means that not even basic awareness training will have been given. 
  • Of the 46 per cent of respondents who knew that their school contains asbestos,  40 per cent had not been told where it is located, which means that they, and the children they teach, may be in danger of disturbing it
  • More than 80 per cent of respondents said that parents had not been given information about the presence of asbestos and how it is managed.  In the USA annual reports are mandatory.
  • Very few of the respondents who said that their school does contain asbestos had seen a copy of their school’s asbestos management plan (only 15%)
  • Of the respondents who knew that their school does contain asbestos, just over a third reported that there had been an incident which may have led to exposure.  A selection of comments from respondents on particular incidents is set out below.
  • Over three quarters of respondents were unaware of the growing death toll among teachers linked to asbestos exposure.
  • An even greater number (nearly 95 per cent) were unaware that Britain has the highest mesothelioma rate in the world.
  • Only 20 per cent of respondents were aware that children are more at risk than adults from exposure to asbestos fibres, due to the long latency period for mesothelioma.
  • Only 13 per cent of respondents were aware that schools are not routinely inspected to check how asbestos is being managed.
  • Over a third of respondents were aware of the dangers posed by First and Second World War gas masks, meaning that nearly two thirds had not received the HSE, DfE (and JUAC) messages and could be putting themselves and pupils at risk.
  • 99 per cent of respondents agreed that there should be a long-term government strategy for the removal of asbestos from all schools.

Comments from respondents about asbestos exposure incidents at their school

The examples below are typical of problems which occur in schools, namely:

  • The presence of asbestos should be known and its location should be communicated to anyone likely to disturb it, whether builders/maintenance workers or teaching/support staff, but this is not always the case.
  • Once discovered it may be dealt with in an inappropriately casual manner.
  • Schools are different to other workplaces in that they contain children who may not always follow instructions designed to protect them from harm, and this is not always taken into account.
  • When it becomes apparent that there is a problem it may be dealt with straightaway.  However in some cases long-term exposure may already have taken place.

‘A wall was removed by builders. It was discovered when they tried to dispose of the rubble.  It meant the building was closed for a long time while specialists cleaned and disposed of everything affected.’

‘TA putting staples into the ceiling and then being told afterwards that the ceiling contained asbestos’

‘The first I knew about it was when a caretaker came into my room with a pot and paintbrush and when I said “Oh I didn’t know my room was being decorated” he answered “it’s not, I’m sealing the asbestos panels”’.

‘Someone drilled a hole in it to put a clock up’.

‘The door to my laboratory has an exposed asbestos lining.  I stood at that door at the start and end of every lesson for ten years, greeting students before someone pointed out to me that the asbestos surface had been broken.  Within a week the door was replaced and now all similar doors within the school have also been replaced.  I can’t help but be concerned about this.’

‘Asbestos found in cupboards that were being used for storage by teachers. In reality some removal took place but cupboards were then just sealed with gaffer tape which students then picked off.  This happened in a couple of locations.  More recently our school has been demolished and a new school built.  Students and staff have had to walk past the demolition work for weeks as asbestos-riddled buildings have been demolished.  Although workmen have had protective clothes on, as it is outside it has been seen that there has been no need to provide any protection for staff or students.