The “Invisible” Threat: A Look at Asbestos in Schools and Colleges

Asbestos in schools and Colleges – Are you aware of the unseen, deadly materials that could be lurking in your children’s schools and colleges? If you’re thinking about old textbooks or dated curricula, think again. This issue is far more concerning, and it’s about a material named – asbestos. In this article, we talk about the concern with asbestos in schools and colleges.

The Ghosts of the Past: When Asbestos Ruled the Building Industry

Consider this: out of the 20,400 primary schools and 3,400 secondary schools scattered throughout the UK, an alarming 13,000 were erected between 1945 and 1974.

Why is this significant, you ask?

Well, these years marked the heyday of asbestos use in construction. Builders were adding asbestos-containing materials to every structure from houses to schools. But the history of asbestos didn’t stop there. Even in renovations and refurbishments conducted after this period, the use of asbestos remained prevalent.

Approximately 90% of schools in the UK contain asbestos, as per the Medical Research Council. These are not just confined to older buildings either. Despite asbestos being banned in 1999, schools and colleges built or refurbished before this date are likely to contain asbestos materials.

That’s a significant number of children, teachers, and staff members spending their days in environments potentially riddled with this dangerous substance.

The Silent Killer: Types of Asbestos in Schools and Colleges

Asbestos lurks in various forms in our schools. The three main types of asbestos – chrysotile (white), amosite (brown), and crocidolite (blue) – were widely used in construction. Amosite, particularly found in insulating boards, is present in many post-war schools. This type of asbestos is particularly dangerous, responsible for over 90% of mesothelioma deaths.

Location Matters: Where Asbestos in Schools and Colleges Hides

You might wonder where exactly asbestos hides in schools. It could be in floor and ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, roofing, textured coatings, window seals, and even in the heat-resistant materials in science labs. Essentially, it could be anywhere, quietly posing a risk to our children and educators.

Lack of Awareness: A Key Problem

Despite these alarming facts, awareness about the prevalence and danger of asbestos is disappointingly low. The National Education Union found that nearly half (46%) of all respondents were unaware if their school contained asbestos.

This ignorance comes with a heavy price. Between 2001 and 2012, there were 224 mesothelioma deaths of individuals who had worked in schools, mainly teachers, per the Office for National Statistics. Even more concerning is that children are more susceptible to the long-term effects of asbestos exposure due to their longer life expectancy.

The Post-Asbestos Era: A Dangerous Legacy

You’d think that since asbestos was officially banned in November 1999, it should no longer be a concern. However, the presence of asbestos in our schools and colleges didn’t magically disappear post-ban. It’s still there, possibly affecting countless lives.

The Sobering Reality: Mesothelioma and Asbestos

Perhaps more alarming than the presence of asbestos is the horrifying disease it can cause. Did you know that Britain holds the unfortunate record of having the highest mesothelioma incidence in the world? That’s more than double that of France, Germany, or the USA.

The Deadly Tally: Comparing Asbestos and Road Accidents

To further stress the magnitude of the asbestos problem, more people in Britain are dying from asbestos-related diseases annually than from road accidents. During the mid-90s, these figures were on par – 3500 deaths each year from each cause. Since then, while road deaths have taken a nosedive by 45%, asbestos deaths have shockingly risen by 35%.

The Unexpected Victims: School Teachers

It may come as a surprise, but school teachers, typically considered to be in a low-risk profession, are suffering disproportionately from mesothelioma. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have even raised concerns about the alarmingly high asbestos-induced deaths among teachers.

The Silent Killer: Amosite Asbestos

The root of this issue lies in the extensive use of asbestos insulating board (AIB) during construction. This board, often used for ceilings and walls, contains amosite – a type of brown asbestos. Belonging to the amphibole group, amosite is particularly toxic to humans.

Why Schools Are Special – and Not in a Good Way

Schools are usually places of joy, learning, and growth. However, they also hold a higher risk because of the vulnerability of children to asbestos exposure compared to adults.

It’s high time we addressed this hidden threat to our children’s health and well-being. Our next steps should be about raising awareness and working towards a safer future. Stay tuned to learn more about how we can combat this insidious enemy.

Asbestos in schools and colleges

Digging Deeper: The Problem with Asbestos in Schools and Colleges

So, you’re now aware of the asbestos issue. But what exactly makes this situation so problematic in our schools and colleges? Let’s unpack this.

When ‘Doing Nothing’ is the Suggested Action

Currently, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines suggest a ‘hands-off’ approach towards asbestos. The advice? As long as the asbestos is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, it’s safer to manage it rather than remove it. This means most of our educational institutions still carry this hazardous legacy, with long-term management as the only solution.

The Management Gap: A Matter of Great Concern

While some schools have effective asbestos management systems, many don’t. The reality is that the safe handling of asbestos demands diligence, attention, and knowledge, all of which are often lacking.

The Inadequate Asbestos Registers: When Paperwork Fails

Sure, many schools and colleges have an asbestos register, but the effectiveness of this tool is questionable. Numerous registers aren’t regularly updated or accurate. Worse still, we’ve found that key personnel in many schools don’t know where the register is kept. This leads to contractors starting work oblivious of the asbestos locations.

The Asbestos Awareness Deficit

To make matters worse, many institutions fail to provide their staff with crucial asbestos awareness training. Combine this with the absence of concrete management plans, unclear responsibility lines, and poor survey information – it’s clear we’ve got a problem that needs immediate attention.

Is Your School Asbestos Compliant?

Now you might be wondering – how can you tell if your school or college is compliant with asbestos regulations?

Worry not, we’ve got you covered. We’ve prepared a comprehensive Asbestos in Schools and Colleges Compliance Checklist for you to download.

For a more in-depth analysis, we also offer a free asbestos audit conducted by our qualified consultants. Don’t leave the health and safety of your educational community to chance – contact us today to book your free audit.

Let’s take action together because a safer future can’t wait.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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