Schools asbestos policy hinges on child exposure assessment
The Government is awaiting the findings of an independent advisory committee on the extent to which children are at risk from exposure to asbestos fibres before reviewing its policy on how schools should manage the substance.
Education minister Nick Gibb tried to reassure MPs during an Adjournment debate in the House of Commons yesterday (7 February) that the Government takes the issue of asbestos in schools very seriously and stressed that the HSE recommends against removing the material, if it is properly managed and deemed to be in good condition.
The minister was responding to a report published last week by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, which called for, among other things, the phased removal of asbestos in all schools to protect their occupants from its potentially dangerous effects.
Pushing Mr Gibb and the Government to support the report’s proposals, Labour MP Ian Lavery, the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s secretary, said: “Exposure to asbestos in schools is endangering the lives of tens of thousands of schoolchildren and teachers, many of whom are completely unaware of their daily exposure.”
He added: “Even the most common of classroom activities can release dangerous fibres. That can be something as simple as slamming the door five times, which could release levels of amosite fibres more than 600 times greater than outdoor levels. That action routinely occurs in Britain’s schools on a daily basis. There are even simpler reasons for fibre release in classrooms, such as placing drawing pins in the wall and removing books from the book shelf.”
In response, Mr Gibb said the HSE’s advice on the matter is clear: “If the Control of Asbestos Regulations are followed and asbestos surveys and management plans are put into effect, with periodic checks on the condition of any asbestos, the expert advice is that this will result in no significant exposure to asbestos.”
However, he promised that the Government’s policy would be re-examined once it receives the results of work currently being undertaken by the Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment to examine the relative vulnerability of children to exposure to asbestos fibres, even low-level exposure.
He said: “This will be the first such assessment, as previous assessments have been for adults exposed to high exposure levels. We will review our policy on asbestos management and our advice to schools when we receive the committee’s report later this year.”
Mr Gibb rejected the report’s call for a national register of asbestos surveys of public buildings in England and Wales on the grounds that this would result in “the unnecessary duplication of the records that local authorities and other employers are required by law to keep”.
He also said that while the Government encourages a policy of openness in regard to informing parents and school staff about the presence of asbestos and how it is managed, the decision on what information to share is down to the duty-holder.
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