Thursday, 18 June 2015

Asbestos Update

In the run up to Annual Conference, the NUT conducted a short on-line survey of 10,000 members about their knowledge and experiences of asbestos in schools. The responses have confirmed  concerns that asbestos management in many schools is not of an acceptable standard. The findings have also highlighted that there is a long way to go to ensure that messages about the risks to staff
and children from asbestos are fully understood.  The key findings included:
  • 44% of respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. This is concerning considering that approximately 86% of schools do contain asbestos. 
  • Of the 46% who were aware that their school contains asbestos, 40% had not been told where it is located; meaning they and their pupils could be at risk of disturbing it. 
  • More than 75% of respondents did not know that the death rate amongst teachers linked to asbestos is increasing
  • Only 20% were aware that children are more at risk than adults from exposure to asbestos, due to the long latency period for mesothelioma. 
  • 99% of respondents agreed that there should be a long-term government strategy for removing asbestos in schools.
  • It is very important for staff to be aware if their school contains asbestos, and if so, where it is and how it is being managed. If you haven’t already done so, please request this information from your employer.
A motion on asbestos was passed at the 2015 Annual Conference. Over the next year, the NUT will continue its work with other unions and groups (e.g. Joint Union Asbestos Committee and Asbestos in Schools) to campaign for the government to introduce policies which will deal more effectively  with the risks of asbestos in schools. These include: funding removal of asbestos in all schools, more extensive use of air sampling, and mandatory on-site inspection of asbestos management plans in schools.

In March, the Department for Education (DfE) released revised guidance for managing asbestos in schools, which is aimed at school leaders, governors, local authorities and academy trusts. The document provides information on the risks of asbestos, responsibility for safe management of asbestos and the steps involved in day-to-day management. It is available here.

Whilst the NUT is pleased that the DfE has published more up-to-date information, there also needs to be guidance aimed at teachers and support staff; the DfE has said they will be publishing supplementary guidance, and they have been asked to ensure this is relevant to teachers and support staff.

In addition, the guidance does not include a warning on warm air cabinet heaters, which the DfE had previously stated they would provide. Again, they have been asked to confirm the secondary guidance will include this information. The full Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) warning on such heaters is available here. It is also important to be aware that the example management plan on page 9 is of poor quality, and will lead to bad practice in schools. Therefore, it should not be used. JUAC will be providing the DfE with examples of effective plans.

•  Circulate the guidance to school leaders, whilst making them aware that the example management plan should not be used.

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