Should we be worried about asbestos in schools?

Asbestos in schools remains a problem in the UK

Earlier this year we launched a hard-hitting campaign to raise awareness about the issue of asbestos in schools.

Shockingly, in some of our cities and towns, more than 80% of schools have an asbestos problem and every year hundreds of people die here after being exposed to asbestos in schools as children.

There have also been claims that the UK has the world’s highest death rates for teachers dying from mesothelioma – a cancer which is caused by exposure to asbestos in 90 per cent of cases.

A recent court case has once again shown the dangers people can be exposed to if schools and their contractors fail to refer to their asbestos registers and management plans.

School and maintenance contractor are fined

Last month, Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard that, in February 2019, T.W. Steam & Heating Services Limited had been contracted by Park View Academy, to install a new heating system in the school building at Park View School, Chester Le Street.

In the course of the work, ceiling tiles containing asbestos were disturbed, potentially exposing several people to asbestos fibres.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the contractor and the school both failed to refer to existing asbestos registers and management plans to identify the presence of asbestos within the school building.

Park View Academy of Church Chare, Chester Le Street, pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £3,000 with £4,785.37 costs.

T.W. Steam & Heating Services Limited of Rennys Lane Industrial Estate, Durham, pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £2,000 with £4,710.37 costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Ashfaq Ali said: “The dangers associated with asbestos are well known and advice and guidance is freely available from HSE and other organisations. Those in charge of premises have a duty to inform contractors of the presence of asbestos containing materials, ensuring that works are carried out safely.

“Those undertaking work which is likely to disturb asbestos, or asbestos containing materials, should ensure that building occupants and operatives are not exposed to asbestos. Those undertaking the work should also provide suitable information, instruction and training to their employees.

“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

What are the dangers associated with asbestos in schools?

When asbestos is disturbed or damaged it can release tiny fibres into the air which are known to cause several life-threatening conditions, including mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.

One of the reasons why people in schools are more vulnerable to asbestos if it is present is because children are playful, boisterous and often move in groups. It’s therefore not uncommon for school buildings to be damaged and this can lead to the harmful asbestos fibres being released into the air.

Tragically, children are at an even greater risk from asbestos because their lungs and respiratory systems are still developing. Their lungs are smaller and they breathe at a faster rate meaning they can inhale more asbestos fibres with every breath.

If they have come into contact with asbestos particles they are also more like to accidentally ingest fibres through sticking their fingers in their mouths. Ingested asbestos fibres can cause mesothelioma in the tummy which is called peritoneal mesothelioma.

What can we do to tackle asbestos in schools?

Acorn representatives have been raising the issue of asbestos in schools with policymakers for many years.

We feel so strongly about this issue that we launched our Asbestos in Schools campaign this year on World Teachers’ Day to raise more awareness about the problem.

Initially, our campaign is focussing on the city of Birmingham which has hit the headlines in recent years because of asbestos in schools. It is also where some members of our team live and work.

The campaign is in its early stages but it has already attracted a range of press coverage and we’ve been reaching out to various groups, including local politicians and education unions, to let them know how they can get involved.

We’re also reaching out to headteachers and governing bodies to help them get on top of their asbestos.

The sad truth is many headteachers and governing bodies are not aware if their school contains asbestos.

It is important that all headteachers – or indeed anyone who is responsible for managing a public or commercial building – know where asbestos is in their buildings and what state it is in.

If you don’t know where your asbestos is, and you don’t know what state it is in, you are not going to be able to manage it properly. As a result, you could end up putting people’s lives at risk and you could be prosecuted for failing to comply with the law.

To help tackle this problem, Acorn is offering all headteachers in Birmingham a free asbestos audit for their school. All they have to do, is call Acorn on 0844 818 0895.

What can the public do to tackle asbestos in schools?

As we’ve said, headteachers must ensure they know if there is asbestos present in their schools, where it is and what state it is in. They must also keep up-to-date asbestos records to ensure anyone working at the school also knows about the presence of asbestos.

However, whilst headteachers and contractors have legal duties when it comes to asbestos, in reality lots of us have a part to play in protecting staff and children from the dangers of asbestos in schools.

If you have a connection with any school – whether you work at a school, are a governor, or have a child or grandchild at a school – start asking questions.

If that school was built before 2000 there is every chance that it contains asbestos. So, find out if your school has an up-to-date asbestos register.

If they don’t, let them know that our team at Acorn can help them. We are a fully independent and impartial company so they can be confident that the recommendations they receive from us will always be in their best interests.

You’re not causing your school a problem by asking these types of questions. If you help a school to address the issue of asbestos you could save the school from prosecution, from huge amounts of disruption and you may even save lives.

Acorn is a professional asbestos consultancy helping organisations deal with asbestos compliance using asbestos surveysasbestos air testing, and asbestos removal management. Please call one of the team, or use the online form to obtain your free quotation. If you would like further information or advice on asbestos and asbestos training, contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or Contact Us   

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.

Need Help? Request a Call Back

Request a call back from one of our expert Asbestos Consultants who will help you identify what you need

More Asbestos Articles

It's estimated about 20% of the population of England and Wales use water supplies that have passed though asbestos cement pipework.

How safe are our water supplies from asbestos?

A few weeks ago, we read an interesting editorial about concerns that water supplies in America and Canada may contain asbestos. The opinion piece appeared in The Altamont Enterprise in Albany County, New York, and was called We shouldn’t play Russian roulette with our water supply. It raised concerns about a water main break in … Read more

Are you doing everything you can be to be asbestos-safe?

20 years after the use of asbestos was banned in the UK will we ever be asbestos-safe?

Have you ever considered if the UK will ever be asbestos-safe? Here at Acorn Analytical Services we are regularly asked by clients and friends if we think there is enough asbestos left in the country to see us out. Sadly, the answer is yes and not just us but generations to come. Any building built … Read more

Acorn Analytical Services director Ian Stone has worked in the asbestos industry for 20 years.

Acorn director has spent 20 years in asbestos industry fighting hidden killer

This month it is 20 years since Acorn Analytical Services director Ian Stone first entered the asbestos industry. We caught up with Ian to find out how his career in the asbestos industry began and what changes he has seen along the way. Ian, what made you want to join the asbestos industry? When I … Read more

How often do you wonder if you’re at risk from asbestos at home?

Is asbestos at home a worry for you?

How often do you wonder if you’re at risk from asbestos at home?  It’s probably not something that many people think about in their daily lives but frighteningly homes up and down the UK are riddled with asbestos. Asbestos can be found in a surprisingly high number of places throughout our homes, including in ceilings, … Read more

If you are embarking on a building or renovation project contact a professional team of asbestos experts before work gets underway.

Asbestos experts save lives

A court case in recent weeks has highlighted once again why it is so important to turn to asbestos experts before you start any type of building work. Salisbury Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 8 September 2018, Robert Angell undertook work to remove asbestos-containing material (ACM) while renovating a pub in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. An investigation … Read more

Asbestos in schools remains a problem in the UK

Should we be worried about asbestos in schools?

Earlier this year we launched a hard-hitting campaign to raise awareness about the issue of asbestos in schools. Shockingly, in some of our cities and towns, more than 80% of schools have an asbestos problem and every year hundreds of people die here after being exposed to asbestos in schools as children. There have also … Read more

Working from home gives organisations the chance to find out if their workplace contains asbestos

Use working from home time to tackle the worry of asbestos

As millions of workers return to working from home this week to curb the spread of Covid-19 did you know this could be one of your best opportunities to make your workplace safer? It may come as a surprise to a lot of people but asbestos is actually the world’s biggest workplace killer. We’ve made … Read more

Asbestos in the workplace can kill if it is not managed properly.

Asbestos in the workplace is a killer

At Acorn Analytical Services, we are all too well aware that asbestos in the workplace can kill if it is not managed properly. This Sunday, our staff – along with millions of other people across the UK – will stop what they’re doing and observe a minute’s silence to mark National Workplace Day of Remembrance … Read more

If you or your staff are working in the vicinity of asbestos and you fail to wear RPE correctly the consequences could be severe.

The dangers of not wearing RPE correctly

Being out on the frontline helping organisations to manage their asbestos safely means we’re no strangers to wearing RPE. For anyone who doesn’t know RPE stands for Respiratory Protective Equipment and it comes in two main types – respirators and breathing apparatus. RPE is one of the most essential pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) … Read more

Lung disease is a threat to construction workers

Construction workers warned about lung disease

Every week construction workers in the UK are dying from lung disease because they have inhaled hazardous substances at work. The seriousness of the situation prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to deliver an awareness campaign during recent weeks whilst its inspectors carried out health-related site inspections. Construction workers have a high risk of … Read more