Asbestos awareness in schools – May ’19.
The annual UK asbestos related death toll is in excess of 5,500 (four times the mortality rate for road accidents). The combination of widespread asbestos presence in schools, and staff who do not understand the risks it presents, is deeply worrying.
Asbestos is present in 86% of UK schools. Since 1980, there have been 319 teacher deaths from mesothelioma (a cancer caused by asbestos fibres). On average 17 teachers now die every year from the disease, compared to 3 per year in 1980.
A survey which examined asbestos awareness in schools, carried out by the National Union of Teachers in 2015, found that just under half of respondents had not been told whether their school contained asbestos. Of the other half who did know that their school contained asbestos, 40 per cent of them had not been told where it was located. They could therefore could do nothing to prevent its disturbance. Amongst teaching staff, the level of asbestos awareness is still extremely poor.
Asbestos doesn’t present a risk unless it is disturbed. Schools however are active places and accidental damage, drilling a wall or even using drawing pins could result in the release asbestos fibres.
Accidents waiting to happen.
George Efthymiou, a director with Shout Out Safety and a qualified Asbestos Surveyor, believes that whilst most school bodies know where asbestos is within their buildings, the poor level of staff awareness presents a very real hazard.
“All schools must have an asbestos survey /management plan carried out but many think that this is all they need and don’t consider the ongoing monitoring and management of all ACM’s found. There are indeed still many members of staff who are totally oblivious to where the asbestos is in their workplace.
This obviously varies with establishment, but some sites I have seen concern me greatly. Especially after speaking with teachers and site management personnel who just don’t understand the dangers, or, are ignorant of them. It is my belief that many accidents are just waiting to happen.”
The removal of asbestos from the entire UK school estate would take many years and create significant disruption but it needs to be done. In the meantime though, it is clear that correct and appropriate Asbestos Awareness training for all school staff should become mandatory.