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“Scourge of asbestos” and the danger in our schools

The National Union of Teachers has described a danger within UK schools as ‘the scourge of asbestos’. Although potentially lying dormant in the main, the risks of being exposed to the deadly substance are ever-present for children, teachers, and school support staff.

Jenny Darby, a former science teacher who taught between 1969 and 1996, in classrooms thought to have contained asbestos, says that it could have been in the ceilings and walls:

“….. when the [ceiling] tiles came off, the asbestos would come down. I used to stick them back up almost every day.”

Having been diagnosed in 2012 with Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer attributed to asbestos exposure, Mrs Darby feels that she is “on borrowed time.” A belief that asbestos was also present in the equipment used in her school laboratory makes her level of exposure significant.

Schoolchildren also at risk from asbestos

The presence of asbestos in schools has been the subject of great concern in the UK, and with 228 teachers dying from Mesothelioma between 1980 and 2011,¹ it begs the question of how many children have also suffered the effects of asbestos exposure in the same classrooms.

Statistics would simply record their last place of employment, with the cause of death not being linked to the presence of asbestos in a particular school.

The situation in our schools has been described as a “time bomb waiting to explode” by another former teacher diagnosed with Mesothelioma. David Martin fears that schoolchildren can easily disturb the substance inadvertently, releasing the deadly fibres and dust into the air.

Asbestos awareness in schools

Nowadays there is a greater awareness of the dangers of asbestos. Campaign groups have been set up to pressurise the government into taking action – the removal of all asbestos being the main objective.

Asbestos removal requires carefully planned and managed operations, however, if the danger is to be contained and to prevent further exposure. Specially trained contractors should be brought in to manage this process, and ensure that the materials removed are disposed of safely.

Asbestos training courses

Contractors involved in licensed asbestos removal are required by law to undergo Category ‘C’ training before undertaking this type of work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) specifies three categories of training are needed, depending on the potential level of exposure:

  • Category ‘A’: Asbestos Awareness training for workers likely to come into contact with asbestos during their normal working day.
  • Category ‘B’: Non-licensed work to remove asbestos
  • Category ‘C’: Licensed work to remove the substance, as described above

UKATA online training

The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) specifies the content of Asbestos Awareness courses, ensuring that each training provider registered with them adheres to strict guidelines.

Courses are updated regularly to reflect any changes in the legislation surrounding asbestos, and to promote best practice in each category of work. An HSE asbestos certificate is awarded at the end of a course, and is valid for 12 months.

Online training offers a flexible way for workers to comply with HSE requirements, and allows them to complete the course in their own home if preferred.