Asbestos in Schools
 
Update 118
21 February 2011

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1. Is enough being done to tackle the problem of asbestos in the region's schools?
BBC South East Inside Out - Monday 21st February 1930. You may wish to see this programme on the web as the issues are common to many regions. It follows a BBC Inside Out report in 2009.

2. School teachers’ asbestos deaths rise relentlessly
The latest statistics for teachers' and lecturers' mesothelioma deaths have been released and are analysed here. Sadly the numbers have increased once again. 109 school teachers died of mesothelioma between 2001 and 2008. Between 1980-1985 on average 3 school teachers were dying each year of mesothelioma, in the latest period 15 died each year.

3. Minister fails to commission an assessment of the asbestos risks to school children
The Minister of State for Schools has failed to commission the government’s advisory committee on science, WATCH, to assess the relevance of these deaths and assess the asbestos risks to children. (Their final meeting to discuss low level asbestos risks is on 24th February.)

4. Parliamentary answer - includes flawed dismissal of teachers deaths and misleading justification for the policy of asbestos management
A Parliamentary question asked by John Mann MP raises many of the core issues connected with asbestos in schools. The answer from Nick Gibb MP, the Minister of State for Schools, fails to adequately address the very serious issues raised.

In particular the Minister unjustifiably dismisses the annually increasing death toll amongst school teachers. He is spinning the statistics. Teachers, support staff and children are being exposed to asbestos at school and dying. 20 or 30 children are exposed for every teacher, so proportionately their deaths are greater. It is clearly the Minister’s duty to assess the risk to children and in this answer he fails to do so.

In addition he uses unsubstantiated and misleading statements to justify the government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools rather than removing it.  

When he was Shadow Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP questioned the cost of a phased removal of asbestos from schools balanced against the benefit of saving a few thousand lives. Now that he is in Government he has clearly undertaken that cost benefit analysis and has decided that the numbers of teachers, support staff and children who die from asbestos exposure at school is acceptable. That decision should not have been made without an analysis of the risks to children and how many are dying in later life.

His answers are a clear attempt to keep the decision on the acceptable level of deaths of teachers, support staff and children from open public debate. It is also designed to prevent a proper analysis of the risk to children from the asbestos in more than three quarters of the nation’s schools.

This paper looks at the issues raised in the Minister’s answer.

5. Enforcement action taken against schools for failing to manage asbestos

HSE has published updated details of enforcement action taken against an Academy, two church schools, an independent school, a maintained school and a university over failures to manage asbestos.  An immediate Prohibition Notice was placed on a primary school in Cardiff for a disturbance to asbestos, three Improvement notices were because of breaches in the regulation for providing training, another for failing to provide information on the location and condition of asbestos and the final one for a general failure to manage their asbestos.

This enforcement action shows a continued failure of schools to effectively and safely manage their asbestos.

Michael Lees

Authoritative research can be seen at http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/; 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

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CONTENTS
1. BBC programme on asbestos in schools
2.  School teachers deaths rise relentlessly
3. Minister fails to commission an assessment of the asbestos risks to school children
4. Parliamentary answer - includes flawed dismissal of teachers deaths and misleading justification for the policy of asbestos management
5. Enforcement action taken against schools for failing to manage asbestos
 
 

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