Monday, 19 October 2015

Asbestos- Parliamentary Group says: Remove it NOW!

This article was first published on Dave Brinson's  Vice Presidential campaign site www.DaveBrinsonNUT.blogspot.com

We've been saying it for years, and finally an All-Party Parliamentary Group agrees we're right. Asbestos must be removed from schools.

More than 90% of schools in my Division have asbestos present. The official line from East Sussex County Council has been that it is better to "safely contain" asbestos, rather than "disturbing" it by removal.  The NUT and other teachers' unions do not believe that there is a "safe" level of containment: the material must be removed expertly and safely.

I remember doing a health and safety tour of a school, where the asbestos register showed a small amount of material in the roof above the entrance doors from a playground.  The health and safety officer assured me that it was not likely to be disturbed.  I asked him if he would have any objections to standing underneath that bit of ceiling (which was just thin ceiling tiles) while I kicked a football through it. He got my point !

Last week, there was a tragic fire at a school in my Division.  Much of the building, including the roof, was destroyed in the blaze.  Regional Officer Nick Childs was in contact with the local authority the very same day, to check the asbestos information for the site. We were lucky that there was no asbestos in the roof space (although there is some in the below-ground boiler room, which thankfully was not damaged.)  Had that fire been in an older building with asbestos materials in the roof space, the whole site could have been contaminated.

Old warm-air heaters must be checked
for asbestos-containing material.
And asbestos takes teacher's  lives.  A former staff member at my own school, Clive Beck, died of mesothelioma. The shelves in his stock cupboard had been made of asbestos-containing material. Many other schools had asbestos in wall panels, that were unwittingly used to pin students' work- releasing the deadly fibres.  Warm air heaters were merrily blowing out asbestos dust as the insulating materials inside began to break down with age.  Such overt asbestos hazards should be long-gone from our schools.  But as the "safely" contained asbestos begins to age, it is time to implement NUT policy and see the wholesale removal of all asbestos material from our schools.

NUT Health and Safety Reps can play a vital role, in pressuring their school or LA to remove any remaining asbestos-containing material.  If there isn't an NUT H&S rep yet in your school, why not volunteer? Free training provided by the Union, and a right to paid time off to attend.

Responding to the All-Party Parliamentary Group report, Julie Winn, Chair of Joint Union Asbestos Committee said:

“JUAC welcomes the APPG Report as the first step in developing a national strategic plan to remove asbestos from the built environment. Too little is known about the dangers of the deteriorating asbestos in more than 75% of our schools and colleges; where it is, what condition it is in, how duty holders are managing the asbestos in their schools. What we do know is that staff and pupils are dying as a result of their exposure to asbestos in schools. Despite this there is still no national strategic plan for the prioritised removal of asbestos from our schools over the medium and long term. The APPG Report acknowledges the increased risk to children of airborne asbestos and calls for schools to be prioritised with the removal of asbestos from all schools by 2028. JUAC supports the APPG Report. JUAC calls on all political parties to support the proposal for a new law on asbestos with a clear timetable for the eradication of asbestos and for them to work together to make all UK schools and colleges safe from asbestos.” The report can be found here.

For more information about Asbestos in schools, and other Health and Safety advice and guidance, visit the East Sussex NUT Health and Safety site here.  The A-Z tab at the top contains a list of all NUT briefings on these issues.

The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) is a campaigning organisation with an overall aim of making schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. AiS is non-party political.  See www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk or www.asbestosinschools.org.uk

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