In response to a story run recently by the BBC about Devon man Mr Wallace and his exposure to asbestos in schools, the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) has said that the figures obtained by the BBC suggesting that asbestos may be more prevalent in schools than previously thought will not come as a surprise to those working in the industry.
“UKATA has been campaigning on the issue of asbestos in schools and public buildings generally for some time now,” said Craig Evans, general manager of UKATA. “While figures from the BBC that suggest asbestos is present in nine out of ten schools are higher than official estimates, it will comes as no surprise to those involved in health and safety. The point to make is that asbestos can be managed, as long at the wider issues raised by this killer dust are not swept under the carpet.”
Last year UKATA issued warnings to Birmingham City Council after the authority advised Yardley School to open despite being contaminated by asbestos following a fire at a nearby industrial estate.
In post-war 1940s Britain, cheap building materials were popular and this led to the wide use of asbestos, particularly in schools. The chances are therefore high, UKATA says, that any school built between 1945 and 1980 contains asbestos.
Mr Wallace was awarded £275,000 by Devon County Council as a result of being exposed to asbestos in a school where he worked after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma (a terminal cancer associated with asbestos exposure).
Asbestos remains the biggest workplace killer in the UK and the House of Commons education committee heard that as many as 300 former school pupils develop asbestos-related cancer every year, while the National Union of Teachers has called for all asbestos in schools to be removed.
“Due to asbestos being bound up with the integral structures of so many school buildings, removal programmes would be costly and, in many cases, impractical,” said Craig Evans. “But if the correct steps are taken to comply with the law and treat responsibility for asbestos management with the seriousness it deserves, the risk to staff, students and contractors can be managed effectively.
“When undisturbed, asbestos is usually harmless. However, the danger occurs when asbestos dust becomes airborne and is subsequently inhaled as the result of the damaging or degrading of materials that contain it. The dangerous nature of asbestos means that anyone liable to disturb asbestos during their work or who supervises such employees should receive the correct level of information, instruction and training to enable them to carry out their work safely and competently and without risk to themselves or others.”
The HSE website contains sections dedicated to information and advice for the effective management of asbestos in schools. See https://www.hse.gov.uk/services/education/asbestos-faqs.htm