Survey reveals schools asbestos peril
Fears about asbestos exposures in schools have been raised after a survey uncovered 'worrying shortcomings' in the management of the substance. The nationwide survey of more than 600 union safety representatives in schools 'has flatly contradicted' Health and Safety Executive (HSE) claims that the government is meeting its legal obligations to address the issue of asbestos in schools, a trade union campaign group warned. The unions decided to carry out their own research after an HSE survey and follow-up inspection initiative in September last year revealed that 72 per cent of 152 English councils surveyed were managing asbestos in their 'system-build' schools in line with the appropriate procedures (Risks 475). However the unions found 'disparities' between official reports on how asbestos is monitored and dealt with, and the experience of health and safety reps. Julie Winn, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Campaign (JUAC), a coalition of ten unions within the education sector, said: 'JUAC was unable to accept the HSE's summary findings as these did not align with the experience of our members on the ground.' She added: 'JUAC's grassroots survey shows the importance of supporting the Asbestos in Schools campaign's aims to improve the management of asbestos in all UK schools, and its ultimate removal.' JUAC's survey found that 80 per cent of safety representatives had either not had asbestos awareness training, or did not know if they had, and that only 28 per cent of respondents said the presence of asbestos containing materials (ACM) was clearly marked in the workplace. Commenting on the findings, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said:'Lack of consultation with safety reps and lack of training for staff are two major areas of concern. There is no room for complacency. We are ready to work with schools and local authorities in any way we can to improve standards of asbestos management in schools.'
Issued: 29 April, 2011