Six months age, the House of Commons debated the findings of a report carried out by an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, which once again highlighted asbestos awareness and the continuing problem of its presence in school properties.
At historical asbestos ‘blackspots’ in the north of England, including the Lancashire area, ‘low risk’ asbestos materials known to be present in specific school premises are currently controlled under asbestos management plans.
However, the potential risk posed by the presence of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in school buildings may be found throughout the UK. Recently new figures, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, reveal that asbestos is present in around three quarters of council-run schools in the south west England area of Devon.
While, the numbers were lower at 60 per cent in the Torbay area, the figures reach nearly 85 per cent in Plymouth alone, although according to the Plymouth Association of Primary Head Teachers, “… the more dangerous asbestos were removed many years previously and the strict monitoring of schools and risk assessments are carried out every month”.
The implementation and adherence to an asbestos management plan tends to be adopted as the simplest option for dealing with white chrysotile asbestos, a so-called ‘low risk’ asbestos type, despite the repeated call to completely remove its presence by concerned campaign groups.
However, a main objection to disturbing wallboards, tiles, soffits or other insulation made from asbestos fibres ( until imports were banned in 1999), and which have been in situ for up to thirty years or more, is the potential risk of disturbing their often fragile condition and causing fibre dust to be released into the air.
Inhaling white asbestos fibres can still lead to the development of asbestosis diseases or the fatal and incurable mesothelioma cancer. As recently as the period between 1980 and 2005, just over 270 school teachers and college lecturers were victims of mesothelioma and from 2001 alone, the number was more than a 100, which included higher education teachers and childcare assistants.
A key issue always centres on how rigorously asbestos management plans are enforced. According to surveys undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are still hundreds of schools with ACMs that fail to comply with safety management procedures.
Compliance checks carried out at 164 voluntary aided and foundation schools and academies between November 2010 and June 2011 found that 28 were unable to produce any asbestos management plans or neglected to provide adequate staff training.