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A COMPARISON OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ASBESTOS POLICIES

(Part of "Asbestos Policy Suggested Improvements")


By the mid 1960s both America and Britain were publicly acknowledging the dangers from asbestos. They were aware that even very low levels of exposures could cause mesothelioma and that children were particularly at risk. Initially both Governments issued guidance to schools giving advice on how to protect staff and children, in neither country was the guidance compulsory. However as knowledge increased America took effective measures to counter the threat by introducing far reaching laws which made the guidance compulsory. At the same time they introduced measures that monitored the schools performance by the simple expedient of adopting a policy of openness.

In comparison the measures taken in Britain have been inadequate with the guidance remaining optional and a policy of secrecy has allowed schools with inadequate management systems to continue unchecked. The consequence has been that “A significant minority of schools” have failed to manage their asbestos. The following is a comparison between the policies and actions of America and Britain:

America

In the late1970s the EPA gave technical support to schools to identify and correct potential hazards from asbestos in schools. In the early1980s as the extent of the problem became more apparent America made an assessment of the risks and estimated how many teachers and children might die from exposure at school. In 1982 they made their guidance compulsory so that every school, by law, had to identify its asbestos and implement effective asbestos management plans. The law stipulated that schools had to notify parents and teachers of potential exposure risks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carried out a survey of all the nation’s schools to assess the extent of asbestos so that they could estimate the exposures to teachers and children. Priorities were set and funds were allocated to the schools with the greatest risk. Guidance was given and people were trained.

In 1986 the laws were reinforced so that further inspections are required every three years, and annually parents and teachers have to be updated on the school’s asbestos management plan. The EPA introduced a means of monitoring whether schools are following the guidance, and the laws are vigorously enforced, with substantial fines being imposed on any school that fails to follow the guidance.

The extent of the problem was assessed. Priorities were made, and resources were allocated in proportion to the risk. Laws were introduced so that schools maintain an effective system of asbestos management, and a system of monitoring was devised to ensure that they do. Training and guidance is given and regularly updated. A policy of openness ensures that parents and teachers are aware of the standards of management in their own schools. Because there is an effective system of management, asbestos can remain in situ and parents and teachers can have the confidence that it is being safely managed.

Great Britain

In 1976 The Department of Education issued a memo which warned of the dangers of asbestos in buildings. In 1986 they issued a further memo which gave guidance advising that schools should identify the location, extent, type and condition of their asbestos and then implement a plan to manage it. However this guidance was not mandatory and many schools did not identify whether their buildings contained asbestos. The guidance has never been updated, and as the management of the asbestos was optional some never implemented any management system. To this day it is not known how many schools are managing their asbestos as no overall assessment has been made. Schools do not have to notify parents and some have a legal right not to. There is no robust supervisory system so the HSE/ DfES cannot identify those schools that fail to have effective management systems, and also cannot correct those who fail.

A “duty to manage” asbestos was made law in 2004. The HSE recognised that they had no method of assessing the past or current situation. In an attempt to remedy the situation the HSE asbestos in schools campaign was planning to send a questionnaire to all schools:

“The purpose of the questionnaire was to determine how well the industry was complying with the “Duty to manage” and in particular to highlight “weak” topics, authorities and sectors.”

As the campaign has been dropped the questionnaire has never been sent.

The “weak topics, authorities and sectors” are still not known. A risk assessment cannot be made, as the scale of the asbestos problem cannot be assessed. Consequently resources cannot be allocated correctly in proportion to the risk.

Summary

Both the UK and USA were warned of the risks from asbestos in schools at the same time. The Americans assessed the situation and progressively passed laws, allocated resources and implemented measures that made sure that schools were able to put them into action, and then monitored them to ensure that they did. In contrast 24 years later our Government has not yet assessed the extent of the problem, or updated their guidance. Rather than allocating the necessary resources they have taken them away by cancelling the campaign designed to dramatically reduce the exposure of teachers and children. They have no system of monitoring the result of their policies, and yet they advocate that it is safer to leave asbestos in place and manage it.

America has policies and laws that enable the management of asbestos to be an option. In Britain fundamental changes in policies are needed, priorities have to be changed and resources allocated in proportion to the risk. Only then will every school implement an effective system of managing asbestos. Until that is achieved, leaving asbestos in place and managing it cannot be a safe option.

 

Please can you ask the Minister for an official estimate of the number of people who have died, and are likely to die in the future, from asbestos exposure they experienced when they were a child at school.

   
 
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