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October 17, 2011

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Free schools could exacerbate asbestos-management shortcomings

The growth and popularity of free schools could expose teachers and pupils to health risks from poor asbestos management, unless the Government gets to grips with providing better training on the matter for governors and teachers.

This is the warning from Michael Lees of the Asbestos in Schools (AiS) campaign, who claims that a new Department for Education (DfE) website designed to address a lack of training and awareness around asbestos in schools is beset by funding problems before it has even hit the ground.

Lees – who also sits on the DfE’s Asbestos in Schools Steering Group – says the new training facility, which is expected to be launched soon, is a good move “but needs to be properly funded”. He also wants it to be mandatory for school governors and head teachers to be properly trained in asbestos management and wants more resources deployed to improve awareness of asbestos among all teachers and school staff.

According to Lees, about £20,000 of funding has been set aside to support the training website, but that will dry up within a year, with the Government apparently still unsure where the money will come from to enable it to continue.

Lees highlighted his concerns following his own collation of HSE enforcement action on asbestos management issues against schools outside local authority control. Between November 2010 and July this year, HSE inspectors visited 158 schools, 30 (19 per cent) of which warranted enforcement notices. There were 70 breaches of the HSWA 1974 and 74 breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

The inspections followed an earlier HSE initiative directed at local authority-managed schools, which resulted in 38 Improvement Notices being issued for similar asbestos failings.

Commenting on the latest enforcement findings, Lees said: “This is a disgraceful and dangerous disregard of health and safety laws. It is more proof that the Government’s policy of leaving asbestos in schools and managing it for the remaining life of the buildings is failing and putting teachers, support staff and pupils’ lives at risk.”

Highlighting issues surrounding free schools, he said: “The situation could be worse in free schools and some academies, as most parents and governors do not have the training and experience to manage asbestos, but are taking on the legal and practical responsibilities to do just that. Unless training is made mandatory for governors, headteachers and all staff, it is inevitable that this problem will worsen over the coming years.”

Echoing Lees’ comments, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Campaign Julie Winn said: “Raising awareness and improved training in the management of asbestos is fundamental to health and safety in UK schools containing asbestos. Recently-published government figures show that at least 75 per cent of all schools in the UK have buildings that use asbestos-containing materials.”

Free schools could exacerbate asbestos-management shortfall
The growth and popularity of free schools could expose teachers and pupils to health risks from poor asbestos management, unless the Government gets to grips with providing better training on the matter for governors and teachers.

This is the warning from Michael Lees of the Asbestos in Schools (AiS) campaign, who claims that a new Department for Education (DfE) website designed to address a lack of training and awareness around asbestos in schools is beset by funding problems before it has even hit the ground.

Lees – who also sits on the DfE’s Asbestos in Schools Steering Group – says the new training facility, which is expected to be launched soon, is a good move “but needs to be properly funded”. He also wants it to be mandatory for school governors and head teachers to be properly trained in asbestos management and wants more resources deployed to improve awareness of asbestos among all teachers and school staff.

According to Lees, about £20,000 of funding has been set aside to support the training website, but that will dry up within a year, with the Government apparently still unsure where the money will come from to enable it to continue.

Lees highlighted his concerns following his own collation of HSE enforcement action on asbestos management issues against schools outside local authority control. Between November 2010 and July this year, HSE inspectors visited 158 schools, 30 (19 per cent) of which warranted enforcement notices. There were 70 breaches of the HSWA 1974 and 74 breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

The inspections follow an earlier HSE initiative directed at local authority-managed schools, which resulted in 38 Improvement Notices being issued for similar asbestos failings.

Commenting on the latest enforcement findings, Lees said: “This is a disgraceful and dangerous disregard of health and safety laws. It is more proof that the Government’s policy of leaving asbestos in schools and managing it for the remaining life of the buildings is failing and putting teachers, support staff and pupils’ lives at risk.”

Highlighting issues surrounding free schools, he said: “The situation could be worse in free schools and some academies, as most parents and governors do not have the training and experience to manage asbestos, but are taking on the legal and practical responsibilities to do just that. Unless training is made mandatory for governors, headteachers and all staff, it is inevitable that this problem will worsen over the coming years.”

Echoing Lees’ comments, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Campaign Julie Winn said: “Raising awareness and improved training in the management of asbestos is fundamental to health and safety in UK schools containing asbestos. Recently-published government figures show that at least 75 per cent of all schools in the UK have buildings that use asbestos-containing materials.”

The HSE released official enforcement figures a few days after Lees published his findings, and there is some slight variation between the two. The Executive’s figures, which run from November 2010 to June 2011, show that 164 independent, voluntary-aided and foundation schools and academies were inspected over the period. A total of 41 Improvement Notices were served on 28 schools, with a further 110 given informal advice.

The HSE said compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 in England, Scotland and Wales was broadly similar to the level indicated in its earlier survey and inspection programme involving local authority-controlled schools. 

Geoff Cox, head of the HSE’s public services sector, said: “Most schools were able to demonstrate good levels of awareness and compliance with the asbestos regulations and that’s encouraging, but this inspection initiative did highlight that there is still confusion in some schools over roles and responsibilities.”

He added: “It is important to stress that asbestos which is properly managed, remains undamaged and is not disturbed is not a cause for concern. Those most at risk of disturbing asbestos are tradesmen or general maintenance workers so it is essential they know where asbestos is and that there work is carefully planned and managed.”

The Department of Health’s Committee on Carcinogenicity has said it will obtain data on the level of asbestos in school buildings as part of its assessment of the risks to children from exposure to asbestos. Its findings are expected next month.

The Department of Health’s Committee on Carcinogenicity has said it will obtain data on the level of asbestos in school buildings as part of its assessment of the risks to children from exposure to asbestos. Its findings are expected next month.

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Adrian

Although it mentions enforcement against LEA maintained schools, the attitude here seems to be LEA-good, non-LEA-bad.

Recently our LEA advised our primary school to remove floor tiles containing chrysotile in good condition when all we planned was to replace the carpet covering them. I challenged this. Our school budget was thankfully spared the expense of this advised action.

There is a balance to be struck. Care is needed to avoid alarm, otherwise school budgets will be spent unwisely.