Articles and Teachers Union's press releases

Asbestos in schools


Article 1.

From The Times
November 14, 2008

The asbestos threat inside our schools

Sir,

A high proportion of schools were either built or refurbished using large amounts of asbestos and most of it remains to this day because of the government policy of management rather than removal. The Government has refused MPs and teaching unions’ requests to assess the risk and has refused to carry out a national audit of asbestos in schools.

The underfunding of school maintenance has allowed the condition of buildings and the asbestos within to deteriorate. Therefore, rather than the situation improving over time, it has worsened. In many schools it is just a strip of silicone sealant that prevents the release of dangerous levels of asbestos fibres into the classrooms.

At a recent meeting of the Asbestos Sub-Committee of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, it was announced that the Schools Minister had refused the committee’s request to reinstate a campaign to improve asbestos management in schools. It was, therefore, somewhat ironic that the chairman then stated that it is planned to close the Palace of Westminster, decant the MPs and remove the deteriorating asbestos. When it comes to preventing exposure to asbestos, there seems to be one rule for our legislators and another for our children.

The end result is that teachers and children have been exposed regularly to low levels of asbestos fibres, that cumulatively can cause the aggressive cancer mesothelioma. Owing to the long latency period, statistics do not reveal the contribution of asbestos exposure in schools, for only the occupation at death is recorded.

If one considers the deaths due to other asbestos-related cancers, such as lung cancer, and asbestosis, asbestos kills per annum more people than road traffic accidents. Mesothelioma is difficult to treat and always fatal. However, despite its rapidly increasing incidence, it is the least researched of the UK’s top 20 cancers, with little funding from government.

We call, therefore, on the Government to carry out a national audit of the asbestos content and condition in schools and the associated risks; dedicate funding for mesothelioma research and treatment through a national centre for asbestos-related disease, which we propose; and facilitate research to assess the risks of chronic, low-level asbestos exposure, particularly to children.

Signatories:

  • John G. Edwards - Consultant Thoracic Surgeon and Chair, British Mesothelioma Interest Group, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield
  • Michael Clapham - MP Chair, All Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health

The following also signed the letter but the signatories had to be reduced in number in the Times due to lack of space on the letter page:

  • Anthony Whitson - Chair, Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK
  • Adrian Budgen - Trustee, June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund
  • Liz Darlison - Nurse Consultant, Mesothelioma UK
  • Robin Howie - Former President, British Occupational Hygiene Society
  • Dr Mick Peake - Consultant Respiratory Physician and Vice-chairman of Mesothelioma UK
  • Michael Lees

Index of
Articles and Press Releases

  1. Times letter
  2. Teachers' TV
  3. Early Years Educator article includes PAT (Voice) press release
  4. Association of Teachers and Lecturers
  5. National Union of Teachers
  6. Irwin Mitchell - solicitors call to LEA after a teacher's death
  7. Professional Association of Teachers (Voice)
 

Article 2.

Teachers' TV 14 November 2008

On 14th November 2008 ITN’s Teachers TV broadcast a news report on asbestos in schools. The report focuses on the widespread calls for the reinstatement of a campaign to improve the asbestos management in schools, the need for a national audit of asbestos in schools and the need for an assessment to be made of the risk to staff and children.

The calls are from the teaching unions, MPs, asbestos consultants, surveyors, doctors, occupational hygienists, solicitors, mesothelioma research organisations, mesothelioma support groups, teachers, parents and individuals.

In three separate reports there are interviews with:

  • Michael Clapham MP the Chairman of the Parliamentary Asbestos sub-Committee
  • John Edwards a Consultant Thoracic Surgeon and Chair of the British Mesothelioma Interest Group
  • Adrian Budgen Trustee of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund
  • John Richards a leading asbestos consultant and former Chairman of ATAC the Asbestos Surveyors and Consultants Association
  • Steve Coldrick, HSE Head of Disease Reduction
  • Michael Lees.

http://www.teachers.tv/news/28979
http://www.teachers.tv/news/30321
http://www.teachers.tv/news/30326

Article 3.

Article in Early Years Education Magazine -
also covers the Professional Association of Teachers (Voice) - recent Press release.

I would like to raise a matter, which has been of particular concern over the last year. It is a health and safety issue and is of concern to staff and pupils alike.

The issue is that of asbestos in schools. Along with other organisations, the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) has shared the concerns of Mr Michael Lees who has been campaigning on this matter. Mr Lees’s wife, Gina, was a primary school teacher for 30 years and died of mesothelioma at the age of 51. She did not know that her school contained asbestos when she regularly stuck drawing pins into the ceiling tiles in order to display the children’s work.

After her death, Mr Lees discovered that asbestos was in the school building and was contained in all of the ceiling tiles. His campaigning led to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issuing guidance telling teachers not to stick drawing pins in walls and ceilings.

Mr Lees has subsequently found out that 13,000 schools were built when the use of asbestos was at its height and many other schools were refurbished at the same time, so that the majority of the 24,000 schools in the UK have asbestos-containing materials in them.

He also found that the numbers of teachers dying from asbestos-related diseases is on the increase. Teacher deaths from asbestos-related mesothelioma:

• Between 1980 and 1985: 21
• Between 1986 and 1990: 36
• Between 1991 and 1995: 53
• Between 1996 and 2000: 69

(Source: SecEd NB: HSE Stastics - RJL)

It is believed that most staff working in schools do not know the locations of asbestos in their schools and there is no HSE guidance compelling schools to tell staff and parents.

Apparently, this is because it believes in protecting the public from things that may cause alarm. The HSE believes people should be informed on a need-to- know basis rather than a right-to-know.

PAT has experience of asbestos concerns from within our own membership. In May, Derby City Council was fined £50,000 following the disturbance of asbestos at a primary school in 2004. We worked with the then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the HSE on a number of health and safety issues for schools.

Schools are safe places and it is to the credit of the school workforce and governors that the general picture throughout the country is of effective health and safety procedures operating in schools. These procedures are underpinned by informed risk assessment and proportionate control measures.

Our serious concern about the asbestos issue is the lack of information and basic level of knowledge available to schools and governing bodies. There has been no national assessment of the extent of the asbestos problem in schools and so, at a national level, it is impossible for the government to allocate resources in proportion to the risk.

The same problem applies at school level. We have not carried out any scientific research, but our experience is that in local authority maintained schools headteachers, staff and governing bodies have neither been adequately informed, nor adequately trained.

There are now increasing numbers of schools outside local authority control with direct responsibility for health and safety resting with the governors.

PAT has supported Graham Cox MP in seeking a parliamentary debate on the issue of asbestos in schools. Jim Knight, the Minister for Schools, writing to John Denham MP in June 2007, said:

‘We do not intend to hold a debate as we consider that asbestos in schools is being adequately handled by the DfES and the HSE.’

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), HSE, and others, are doing good work on the sensible management of significant risk. But in relation to asbestos, we simply do not know.

 

 

 

Article 4.

Association of Training and Lecturers Press Release

Even though asbestos was banned in the UK in 1985, many schools still contain the dangerous material and just putting a drawing pin into a classroom wall or slamming a classroom door could be enough to risk people's lives, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Asbestos was used a lot up to the early 1980s, especially in pre-fabricated schools of the CLASP, SCOLA and Hills type. Latest figures show there are at least 1400 CLASP schools and around 13,000 pre-fabs.

The ATL wants the government to carry out a survey of all educational establishments to check if asbestos is present and, if so, to remove it.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “We are deeply concerned about the continuing risk to teachers, support staff and pupils from asbestos in our schools. There is still too little information about asbestos. We don’t know how many schools still contain asbestos, so most teachers have little idea of whether they or their pupils are being exposed to it. Schools should keep and maintain asbestos registers to record the locations and condition of any asbestos, and let staff know."

She added: “Over 400 ATL members know they have been exposed to asbestos in their school or college. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Many teachers and pupils will be unaware, and because asbestos related illnesses take between 15 to 60 years to develop, it is difficult to know how many will become ill or die as a result of exposure. The Building Schools for the Future programme should provide the ideal opportunity to tackle this problem and ensure asbestos is removed from all UK schools. The health of thousands of young people and those working in education are far too precious to allow this to be swept under the carpet any longer.”

The ATL pointed out that IT teacher John Murphy from Manchester died in 2002 aged 57, 18 months after developing mesothelioma contracted from asbestos he was exposed to in Hartshead High School, Ashton under Lyme. And Gina Lees, who taught in primary and nursery schools in Norfolk and Devon, died in September 2000 of mesothelioma. Health and Safety Executive figures show 182 people working in education in the UK died between 1980 and 2000 from mesothelioma, 138 of them men.

Article 5.

National Union of Teachers Press release
19 February 2008.  

Commenting on recent reports on asbestos in schools, Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Europe’s largest teachers’ union, said:

“The need for effective action to combat the dangers of asbestos is now more urgent than ever. Recent reports have revealed dangerous levels of asbestos in Clasp schools and most recently a Brent school.

“The National Union of Teachers has been consistent in its campaign to ensure that all schools are safe to teach in. Teachers, school staff and children need to be in a safe learning environment, with no risk to their health or safety.

“Wednesday 20 February will see a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Asbestos.

“The National Union of Teachers has written to the All Party Parliamentary Group, highlighting the urgent need for progress. The Union has said:

‘There is now an urgent need for a strategic health and safety forum including employers, the DCSF and teacher and school staff organisations in order to address the issue of effective and adequate management of asbestos in all schools. We ask, therefore, that the All Party Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Asbestos make strong representations to the DCSF, DWP and the Health & Safety Executive to ensure the speedy establishment of an effective and representative health and safety forum for the education sector.’

For further details contact press officer Caroline Cowie on 0207 380 4706/ 07879480061.

Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme. See ‘Asbestos Scare In 1,400 Schools’ by Jonathan Milne and Adi Bloom (The Times Educational Supplement, 15 February 2008).

 
 

Article 6.
Irwin Mitchell

Lawyers at personal injury firm Irwin Mitchell have urged education authorities to take the threat of asbestos more seriously, after the settlement of a case involving a Northumberland teacher who died after being exposed to asbestos at the school at which she taught. 

Patricia Cameron taught at Otterburn First School for five years from 1974 and developed the disease Mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos, found in lagging in the school’s boiler room, which she used to visit regularly to hang children’s clothes to dry. 

Following her death in 2004, her family instructed Irwin Mitchell to pursue a compensation claim against Northumberland County Council. The case was recently settled without an admission of liability from the council, which has nevertheless agreed an undisclosed compensation package. 

Experts at Irwin Mitchell have now supported demands by a leading teachers’ union for a thorough audit of the safety of all school buildings – and the removal of all asbestos from schools by 2010. 

Lucy Proctor, solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, represented Mrs Cameron’s family, said that it took a worrying amount of time for the asbestos to be fully removed from the school. During her investigations as part of the case, it was revealed that asbestos was still present in the school as recently as 2006: 

“Despite what happened to Mrs Cameron, there was still asbestos present in the school as recently as two years ago. We need to see a firm plan of action to ascertain how much asbestos is in schools and to set clear targets for its removal.” 

Proctor said asbestos should not be treated lightly as mesothelioma could be caused by modest exposure to the substance: 

“Mesothelioma is typically associated with occupational exposure to asbestos in industry but sadly the numbers of people from other sectors who are developing the disease is increasing all the time. 

“Mrs Cameron was still working as a teacher when she began to suffer symptoms and would return from work complaining of breathlessness, but at the time, neither she nor her family were aware of her exposure to asbestos, or Mesothelioma and the devastating effects it can have. She died 25 years after the exposure to asbestos ended. 

“Although Mrs Cameron suffered surprisingly heavy exposure, Mesothelioma can develop as a result of only slight exposure to asbestos – it has been known, for example, for the families of industrial workers to develop the disease as a result of handling their asbestos dust -covered clothing. 

“People need to remember that it is not just industrial workers that may be affected, and the recent union calls to survey all UK schools for asbestos underlines this point. Unfortunately, Mesothelioma develops over time and the number of cases is expected to continue rising.” 

Evidence at her inquest revealed that Mrs Cameron’s asbestos exposure was at levels associated with people who had worked in industry, but there was no indication that she had been exposed to asbestos dust other that during her employment as a teacher with NCC.

Article 7.
Professional Association of Teachers press release on the ITN report on asbestos in schools (15 February 2008 - see film on site)::
18 February 2008

PAT General Secretary Philip Parkin said: “These findings are of great concern.  It is now time for all schools to be checked and appropriate action taken. Where safety dictates, the asbestos must be removed and disposed of safely.

"Schools are generally safe places and the general picture of effective health and safety procedures in schools is to the credit of the school workforce and governors. These procedures are underpinned by informed risk assessment and proportionate control measures. Our  concern about the asbestos issue is the lack of information and basic knowledge available to schools and governing bodies.

"There has been no official national assessment of the extent of the asbestos problem in schools. Our experience is that, in local authority maintained schools, head teachers, staff and governing bodies have been neither adequately informed nor adequately trained. There are now increasing numbers of schools outside local authority control with direct responsibility for health and safety resting with the governors.

"It is believed that most staff working in schools do not know the locations of asbestos in their schools and there is no Health and Safety Executive guidance compelling schools to tell staff and parents. Apparently this is because the HSE believes in protecting the public from things that may cause alarm. The HSE believes people should be informed on a need-to-know basis rather than a right-to-know. PAT believes there is a right-to-know.

"The DCSF, HSE and others are doing good work on the sensible management of risk, but, in relation to asbestos, we don't know what the risk is and this is totally unsatisfactory."

Notes

1. Along with other organisations, PAT shares the concerns of Mr Michel Lees who has been campaigning on this issue. Mr Lees’s wife, Gina, was a primary school teacher for 30 years and died of mesothelioma at the age of 51. She did not know that her school contained asbestos when she regularly stuck drawing pins into the ceiling tiles in order to display the children’s work. After her death, Mr Lees discovered that asbestos was in the school building and was contained in all of the ceiling tiles. 

His campaigning led to the HSE issuing guidance telling teachers not to stick drawing pins in walls and ceilings. Mr Lees has subsequently found out that 13,000 schools were built when the use of asbestos was at its height and many other schools were refurbished at the same time, so that the majority of the 24,000 schools in the UK have asbestos-containing materials in them.

He also found that the numbers of teachers dying from asbestos-related diseases is on the increase.

Teacher deaths from asbestos-related mesothelioma:

Between 1980 and 1985: 21
Between 1986 and 1990: 36
Between 1991 and 1995: 53
Between 1996 and 2000: 69   (Source: SecEd - NB HSE statistics)

Further information: Michael Lees, Asbestos in Schools : http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/ ("The aim of this site is to inform parents, teachers and ancillary staff about asbestos in schools. It gives guidance on how to improve the management of asbestos in schools. It aims to encourages openness in the UK Government's policy towards asbestos in schools." "Following ITN News report of Friday 15 February: Paper on Release of asbestos fibres in System Build schools for down load " (pdf)

2. PAT has experience of asbestos concerns from within its own membership. In May, Derby City Council was fined £50,000 following the disturbance of asbestos at a primary school in 2004.

3. PAT has supported Graham Cox MP in seeking a parliamentary debate on the issue of asbestos in schools. Jim Knight, the Minister for Schools, writing to John Denham MP in June 2007, said: "We do not intend to hold a debate as we consider that asbestos in schools is being adequately handled by the DfES and the HSE."

ends
Contacts: Principal Officer (Solicitor) David Brierley ( davidbrierley@pat.org.uk), General Secretary Philip Parkin ( philipparkin@pat.org.uk) or Communications Officer Richard Fraser ( pressoffice@pat.org.uk ) on 01332 372 337.

http://www.pat.org.uk

 

 

   

 

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