1. Education Select Committee
At 10 am on 13th March the Education Select Committee
is taking evidence on asbestos in schools.
Michael Lees is giving evidence and says: “This is an excellent
opportunity as it will bring the extent of the asbestos problem in
schools into the open and allow MPs to examine Government policies.”
The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) has called for openness and a
review of Government policies.
They recommend that:
- A policy of openness should be adopted. Parents, teachers and
support staff should be annually updated on the presence of
asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to
- Data on asbestos in schools should be collated on the Asset
Management System as part of DfE’s Property Data Survey Programme,
so that the overall scale of the problem is known, financial
forecasts made and those schools and local authorities with the
worst asbestos problems can be identified and targeted.
- Standards in asbestos training should be set and the training
should be mandatory. The training should be properly funded.
- Pro-active inspections to determine the standards of asbestos
management in all schools should be reinstated.
- An environmental airborne fibre level should be adopted for
- A trial of widespread air sampling for schools is
- The Government should set a programme for the phased removal
of asbestos from all schools, with priority being given to those
schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or
- A comprehensive review of government policy on asbestos in
schools is carried out. The review has to be independent of the
government. It is therefore considered that the Education Select
Committee is the ideal body.
The witnesses are Schools Minister David Laws MP, David Ashton
Director of Field Operations Directorate HSE. Professor Julian Peto,
Chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee Julie Winn, Roger
Leighton, Headteacher, The Sydney Russell School, Dagenham and
committee will: “explore the issues raised with interest
groups, experts in the field and individuals with direct experience
of the problem. This will be followed by evidence from the Schools
Minister and the HSE on relevant Government policies.”
Council in court for ignoring asbestos threat in school
Thurrock Council has been fined £35,000 and ordered to pay
£15,326 in costs for ignoring the asbestos hazard in a number of
After the Court passed sentence HSE inspector Samantha Thomson,
said: “This was a clear example of a local Authority failing to
manage asbestos across its schools for a number of years. “At
Stifford Clays Junior School, the caretaker regularly worked in the
boiler room with dust and debris over a period of six years. She
will have been exposed to asbestos fibres and now faces an anxious
wait to see if it results in any long-term health issues. “Thurrock
Council was informed of the potential for exposure in 2004, yet
failed to act on the knowledge until HSE’s involvement some six
years later.” HSE Press
High School remains closed after asbestos
Cwmcarn High School was closed in October when Caerphilly council
received a report from asbestos consultants that identified damaged
asbestos insulating board (AIB) and amosite fibres in
One of the main buildings, “A,” block was built in the 1950s and
contains significant amounts of asbestos insulating board (AIB) in
places vulnerable to damage by the occupants. Amosite fibres have
been identified in classrooms and the stairwell. There is widespread
AIB debris in the ceiling void and, because of leaks in the roof, a
number of ceiling tiles have fallen into the rooms so that there is
the potential for the contamination to enter the classrooms. Some of
the warm air cabinet heaters contain AIB debris, unsealed and
damaged AIB panels. Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) tests have
confirmed that amosite fibres are released from the heaters.
There remains the potential for occupants of “A” block to be
exposed to asbestos fibres. Although there is a debate over the
extent of the risks, there is general agreement that it was the
correct decision to close the school. The decision now about what to
do with “A” block must be primarily based on what is safe for the
occupants. Children are involved, and they have spent, and will
spend long periods of time in this building. If there remains a
difference in opinion about the risks then the Precautionary
Principle must be followed as the staff and children’s safety has to
be paramount, so that the measures taken must ensure that there is
no further potential for asbestos fibre release.
Warm air cabinet heaters can potentially release asbestos fibres
into the classrooms.
In 1982 warnings were first issued about warm air cabinet heaters
and the potential for amosite fibre release, but that guidance had
not been followed at Cwmcarn school. Warm air cabinet heating was
one of the most common forms of heating schools and therefore AiS
has asked the Department for Education to issue a warning about the
heaters to all schools.
a parliamentary written answer the Minister stated that
“The investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into
the situation at Cwmcarn is still under way and it is appropriate to
wait until they have concluded their investigation and reported
before deciding what action, if any, DfE should take.”
Follow these links to the warnings that were first given about
this type of heating more than thirty years ago. HM
Chief Inspector of Factories (in1981), HSE
(in 1982). The level of fibres sampled in 1982 was 0.025f/ml or
25,000 fibres in every cubic metre of air. A person inhales about 20
cubic metres of air a day .There is no known threshold exposure to
asbestos below which there is no risk and therefore the cumulative
exposures of the occupants of the rooms could be considerable.
5. School teachers and support staff deaths from
latest mesothelioma occupational statistics have just been
published. 128 school teachers died of mesothelioma in the nine
year period 2002-2010. School teachers are dying at a rate of more
than 14 a year from mesothelioma. Female primary school teachers are
dying at a rate considerably above the “average” for all
occupations. Teaching assistants, school secretaries and nursery
nurses are also dying of mesothelioma.
The statistics list cleaners, caretakers and cooks as generic
occupations and do not separately list those who worked in schools,
but it is known that they have also died.
The numbers of teachers dying from mesothelioma is greater than
the statistics show, and possibly significantly greater, as the
occupational statistics do not list deaths over the age of 75, and
it is known that teachers have died over that age.
Signed: Michael Lees