Protect our children from deadly asbestos in schools

UNISON, the UK’s largest union is today calling on the Government to give cast iron assurances that budget cuts will not undermine tackling the vital issue of removing deadly asbestos from schools.

Fears that an influential steering group set up to manage and monitor the impact of asbestos in schools is to be disbanded, has led to widespread anger and concern by unions who form the joint union asbestos campaign (JUAC).

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON said:

“Asbestos is found in 75% of state schools.  In many cases it does not pose an immediate risk but it is vital that there is rigorous monitoring and inspection.  Parents need to know that the health of their children is not being put at risk and teachers and staff need protection.

“The cross party steering group has schools representatives and experts who play an essential part in this vital work.  We want cast iron assurances from Government that it will not fall victim to its cuts regime.”

Just recently fears have been raised about World War 2 gas masks containing asbestos being shown to children in schools.  Evidence points to WW2 gas masks containing blue asbestos being available for sale on online auction websites.  The Health and Safety Executive in Ireland has responded by issuing instructions to all schools to remove immediately all WW2 Gas Masks used as educational aids in history lessons.

HSE in England have yet to issue similar guidance to their Northern Ireland colleagues, and the Asbestos in Schools Group and JUAC will be advising David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools, who is currently deciding on whether the Department of Education will highlight the very considerable risks with the use of WW2 Gas Masks in schools and prohibit their use.
Dave Prentis, went on to say:

“We have to be vigilant.  Remembrance Day is coming up and many schools will be talking to children about the first and second world war.   Some old gas masks have been found to contain asbestos and they should not be given to children or tried on unless they have been given the all clear from asbestos”

1.      JUAC was formed in 2010 and is a trade union campaigning committee comprising the 10 unions: Association of School and College Leaders; Association of Teachers and Lecturers; National Association of Head Teachers; NASUWT; National Union of Teachers; Voice; plus the education sections of, UNISON, Unite UCATT and the GMB: < <> > . The Group has the objective of making all UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos. All the unions in JUAC are members of the Asbestos in Schools (AIS) campaign.

2.      The DfE Asbestos in Schools Group was set up to ensure that asbestos is competently and safety managed in schools and to review progress against DfE/HSE/PfS plans to promote the effective management of asbestos in schools and to share good practice.  It plays a vital role – more details from this link

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4.      Over 75 per cent of Britain’s state schools contain asbestos, according to the Asbestos in Schools: the need for action report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. The report reveals that much of the asbestos is badly maintained, meaning that children and staff are exposed to this killer fibre.

5.      More than 140 school teachers have died from mesothelioma (a cancer that is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos) in the past ten years. An unknown number of cleaners, administrative staff, caretakers, cooks and dinner ladies have also died. The number of children who have been killed by exposure to asbestos at school is unknown, but in the US it was estimated that for every one teacher who dies, nine former pupils will die in adulthood from their exposure as a child., In the UK that would mean that more than 100 people are dying every year as a result of asbestos exposure when they were at school.