Whether or not asbestos should be removed from our schools has long been the subject of heated debate. The government, backed up by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), believe that asbestos-containing materials are safe to be left in place as long as they remain intact and are not disturbed.
Labour party councillors in Worcestershire, however, have demanded the full eradication of asbestos from schools in the area by 2017. Worcestershire council say that the plan is unrealistic and unnecessary.
They claim that most of the asbestos has already been removed from their schools, and what is left is hidden in areas hard to reach, therefore posing little risk to children and members of staff.
337 schools affected in Worcestershire
The fact that 337 schools in this county alone are said to contain asbestos, shows the scale of the overall problem for local authorities. With various cross-party groups campaigning for an Asbestos Eradication Bill to be passed through parliament, local government is under increasing pressure to take control of this issue, despite the reassurances that schools are safe.
Labour councillors believe the existing policy of non-removal is no longer appropriate given the rising numbers of asbestos deaths, predicted to peak towards the end of this decade.
With 2,538 deaths from mesothelioma in 2013, the campaign to rid our educational buildings of asbestos is growing. Labour group leader, Peter McDonald, described the situation as “an asbestos ticking timebomb.”
Lack of health and safety measures
Further concerns have been raised by Labour councillor, Paul Denham. He described a generally laid-back attitude to asbestos on his arrival as a teacher in the area in 1984:
“I remember being alarmed at seeing one building being torn down, with no protection at all, for the workers and pupils nearby. It’s not good enough just to convert schools into academies and have that asbestos risk hanging over another organisation.”
Conservative councillor, Mark Bayliss, made the argument that removing all asbestos from schools in the county would increase the level of danger, and result in a “mass closure.”
The Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012, state that asbestos-containing materials should be located, identified, and regularly checked for damage. All information should be kept in a register, detailing any changes in the condition of ACMs, so that employees and tradespeople working on-site are aware of the current situation.
The Health and Safety Executive states that levels of airborne asbestos fibres will be low as long as there is no visible damage to materials, and that regular monitoring is sufficient to protect the health of school staff and pupils.
Where is asbestos likely to be located in school buildings?
Asbestos insulation was widely used to lag pipes and in central heating systems. Its fireproofing qualities also made asbestos a common choice in the manufacture of fire doors and blankets, as a spray asbestos and also woven using asbestos fibres.
Other likely locations include partition walling, ceiling tiles and floor coverings, and asbestos cement roofing and guttering.