Asbestos in Schools  
Update 132 3 April 2014

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1. Government review of asbestos policy for schools.

The Government is reviewing its policy on the management of asbestos in schools. The call for evidence finished on 31st March and now the Department for Education (DfE) will analyse the responses. The DfE Asbestos Steering Group is also part of the reviewing process.  The conclusions of the review will be published in a DfE report in June 2014.

The Asbestos in Schools Group’s (AiS) response to DfE Policy review provides a detailed and extensive examination of why the present system of asbestos management does not provide the protection to children and staff in schools that it should. It looks at best practice and makes recommendations on the way forward. The following background papers were also submitted:

2. APPG booklet ‘Asbestos in Schools - The Need for Action.’

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety (APPG) has updated and republished their booklet Asbestos in Schools –The Need for Action.’ There have been a number of significant developments since the publication was first issued two years ago. The APPG is sending a copy of the booklet to all MPs and members of the Lords. 

The chairman of the APPG, Jim Sheridan MP, urged his fellow MPs to read the booklet as it directly affects all constituencies and stated “The Committee on Carcinogenicity has confirmed that children are relatively more vulnerable to asbestos and the Government is in the process of reviewing the evidence submitted in the Review of its Policy on Asbestos Management in Schools. Now is the time for urgent action to ensure that future policy addresses the serious dangers caused by the asbestos in UK schools.”

A summary of the booklet is at this link.

3. Early Day Motion. Asbestos in Schools calls on the Government to adopt strategic policies

Cross Party Early Day Motion has been tabled in the House of Commons. “That this House welcomes the Department for Education's policy review for the management of asbestos in schools; notes that the review was called following the Committee on Carcinogenicity's conclusion that children are more vulnerable to asbestos exposure than adults; further notes the evidence given to the Education Select Committee by a leading epidemiologist that between 200 and 300 people could die each year from their asbestos exposure experienced as a child at school; and calls on the Government to look to Australia where a National Strategic Plan for asbestos has recently been introduced which will establish long-term strategic policies for the eradication of asbestos disease and will set systems, timelines and processes for the safe removal of asbestos materials from public and commercial buildings, with priority being given to schools.”

4. Meeting Shadow Secretary of State for Education

On 19 March AiS and JUAC had a meeting with Tristram Hunt MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education. It was a constructive meeting. He acknowledged that asbestos in schools is a serious problem. He agreed that a Labour Government would continue the DfE Asbestos Steering Group.

He said that Labour would work towards a national strategic plan for asbestos in schools while in opposition and in any future government.

5. Wales. No one accepts the overall responsibility for asbestos in schools

The Welsh Government states unambiguously that HSE have overall responsibility for asbestos in Welsh schools, whilst the Westminster Government states with similar certainty that the responsibility for asbestos in Welsh Schools is that of the Welsh Government. Effectively there is no responsible body.

A series of Parliamentary and Lords’ written answers in the Westminster Government state: “Responsibility for asbestos policy for schools in Wales is a devolved matter for the Welsh Government.... Responsibility for the management of asbestos in schools in Wales is a devolved matter for the Welsh. (1)

The First Minister in the National Assembly of Wales disagreed. He was asked in Questions to the First Minister: “I have seen a great deal of correspondence that demonstrates a lack of clarity in terms of who is responsible for the management of asbestos in Welsh schools. David Laws, at a Westminster level, says that the Welsh Government is responsible, and the Welsh Government states that the Westminster Government is responsible. Can you give us more information today as to who exactly is responsible so that we can tackle this very serious situation in Welsh schools?”

The First Minister replied: “The responsibility lies with the Health and Safety Executive....” (2)

This was confirmed in writing by both the Department for Education in Wales and the Head of Public Health Branch who stated “…As you are aware asbestos is a non-devolved matter and responsibility for the subject lies with the Health and Safety Executive and not with Welsh Government.” (3)

This highlights a major problem. The Welsh Government will not accept that they have overall responsibility for asbestos in schools and instead have abdicated that responsibility to HSE and have relied on them to set policy.  But HSE’s remit is not to set policy but is to advise and regulate. Consequently no one is in command, and no one accepts they are responsible for asbestos in Welsh schools. 

6. WWII gas masks. Majority tested contain asbestos.

HSE’s laboratory, HSL, has analysed a collection of WWII gas masks which has confirmed that the majority did contain asbestos, but a minority did not, and it does not appear possible to say with any certainty whether certain types do or do not. Discussions are therefore taking place with the Imperial War Museum to ensure that a clear and consistent message is given to the general public.
Further discussions are taking place aimed at on line sales, so that sellers can comply with the REACH Regulation by ensuring that masks are not sold or sent by mail or courier unless it is known they are asbestos free.
 HSE's advice remains the same: “It is not appropriate for children or teachers to wear or handle a Second World War gas mask unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the particular mask does not contain asbestos.” 
See the JUAC and AiS warning at this link.


(1) Commons written answer Schools: Asbestos Minister of State for Schools/Hywel Williams 24 Feb 2014 : Column 223W

(2) National Assembly of Wales Record of proceedings Questions to the First Minister Asbestos in Schools 1355 28 Jan 2014

(3) 17 May 13  Capital Funding Officer DfES Wales and 23 Jul 13 Head of Environment and Public Health Branch. Health Protection Division Wales. See also Petitions Committee 25 March 2014.  The Right to Know at 48mins 38 seconds

 

Contact:
Michael Lees: michael@lees1262.fsworld.co.uk
Tel: 01409 241496
mob: 0791 0947362

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Authoritative research can be seen at http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/; that is closely referenced with sources, has a search facility so you can find your specific interest and can be quoted. You can also contact us as shown below or by replying to this email.

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CONTENTS

1. Government Review. Schools' Asbestos Policy
2. All Party Parliamentary Group- 'The Need for Action' - booklet
3. HofC Early day Motion: Call for strategic action
4. Meeting Shadow Secretary of State for Education: Agrees school asbestos a serious problem
5. Wales: No one accepts responsibility for Welsh school asbestos policy
6. WW2 Gas Masks: HSE warn schools about asbestos content. Should not be used for reenactment or handled

Numbered references are at the foot of the page

 

 

 

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