Thursday, 13 June 2013

Asbestos: Still a danger in ESCC Schools

178 of East Sussex' 191 schools are assumed to still contain asbestos [Source] . Asbestos is a naturally occurring soft fibrous mineral.  It has been used widely for many years due to its properties of resistance to heat and chemicals.  Many thousands of tonnes have been used in construction of public buildings and, although the  use of most types of asbestos is now banned, much asbestos is still present in buildings today.

The most common uses of asbestos in school buildings were:  spray coatings, mixed with paint or water, for fire protection and insulation on concrete walls and ceilings and on steelwork; insulation lagging, particularly around pipework, boilers and ducts; insulation boards, for example, Asbestolux in heating equipment and other kinds of equipment such as protective mats in laboratories;  asbestos cement products such as wall and ceiling panels, corrugated roof panels, tiles, gutters, pipes and decorative plaster-type finishes.

Asbestos is so dangerous because it gives off very small and fine fibres which can be breathed in easily.  They can remain in the lungs, or settle in the linings of the lungs and the chest cavity, for long periods after exposure and their presence can lead to many asbestos-related diseases.  These can include:  asbestosis or fibrosis, (a scarring of the lungs caused by an accumulation of fibres which leads to chest pain, breathlessness, and strain on the heart);
lung cancer and  mesothelioma (an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs or stomach) from which between 1991 and 2000 a total of 73 primary and secondary teachers died.  Between 2000 and 2010 a further 140 died
There have been deaths of teachers in East Sussex that have been linked to asbestos exposure in schools.

All schools with asbestos present should have a record of its location and how it is monitored and managed ("the Asbestos book)  NUT Heath and Safety Reps should be familiar with the content of this, and challenge their school appropriately about how it is managing this.

There are three possible approaches when asbestos material has been identified:
(i) leave the material in place without sealing it and introduce a management system to keep its condition under review;
(ii) leave the material in place but seal or enclose it and keep its condition under review; or
(iii) remove and dispose of the asbestos material.

The DFE has issued guidance to local authorities which identifies options (i) and (ii) as its preferred options where practicable.  This is accepted by the HSE as generally adequate to meet the requirements of the law.     NUT policy, however, is that all asbestos should be removed from schools, whenever it is found and whatever its form, unless this is completely impracticable. 
There are considerable problems with leaving asbestos in place, even where it is not in poor condition and is effectively sealed.  Its presence may not remain clearly identified and this could lead to exposure during later maintenance or repair work.  There is experience of this occuring in several schools.
There is significant guidance for NUT Members and School Health and Safety Reps on the NUT Website here.   If you have an asbestos issue in your school, please contact your NUT Division Secretary without delay for support.


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