UNISON criticises delayed government report into asbestos in schools

UNISON has today (Monday) criticised the ongoing delay of a government report into asbestos in schools that was due to be released last spring, warning that the delay could place pupils and staff at risk.

The union, which represents more than 250,000 school support staff, was one of ten unions* that forced the Department for Education to review the management of asbestos in schools. The Department’s report, due to be published last year, has been submitted to the Cabinet Office but has not yet been made public.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “There is a real possibility that this report will not be published before the dissolution of Parliament in three week’s time because the government believes the problem of asbestos in schools is simply too big to tackle. This is unacceptable given the severity of the risks posed to children and staff working in schools.

“This review is an opportunity finally to put radical measures in place to address this problem but that opportunity is being squandered. The report must be published immediately.”

More than 75 per cent of UK schools contain asbestos. It is not known how many children have been affected but younger people, if routinely exposed to asbestos fibres over time, are at greater risk of developing asbestos-related disease than older people.  

Between 2003 and 2012 there were 224 mesothelioma deaths where the deceased’s last occupation was recorded as ‘teaching professionals’.  In addition, teaching assistants was the recorded occupation in eight deaths, nursery nurses in eight deaths, and school secretaries in eight deaths.

The incidence of mesothelioma** in Britain is by far the worst in the world. Amosite was used extensively in school materials that were vulnerable to damage from children and as a result of this the UK has a worse asbestos problem in schools than other countries.   

Notes to editors 

* The Joint Union Asbestos Committee is comprised of the Association of School and College Leaders Association of Teachers and Lecturers; National Association of Head Teachers; NASUWT; National Union of Teachers; Voice; UNISON, Unite, UCATT and the GMB. 

** The United Kingdom possesses one of the highest rates of mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer) in the world, largely because the UK government permitted the use of asbestos long after other countries outlawed the toxic material’s use.