Fundamental steps must be taken to protect pupils and teachers from deadly asbestos in schools, a new study urged today.

The report by the Asbestos Testing and Consultancy Association, entitled Assessment of Asbestos Management in Schools, claimed the majority of schools are "not managing their asbestos effectively or safely".

The findings were based on an initial sample of 16 schools which agreed to be inspected on a voluntary basis after being contacted by their respective authorities.

None of the schools in the report's 16-strong sample were found to be fully compliant with Health and Safety Executive guidance and only four schools inspected were said to have an adequate standard of asbestos management, the report noted.

In its executive summary, it concluded: "In the majority of these schools the systems of asbestos management are not of an acceptable standard, they are ineffective and at times dangerous."

It added: "The majority had unacceptable standards which were either ineffective or unworkable and with the potential to cause a contamination or exposure incident.

"In one school, the system of asbestos management was virtually non-existent despite the fact that there was a significant amount of asbestos known to be present."

The report also found two schools in the sample did not know who was in charge of asbestos management and in more than half of those schools surveyed there was evidence of damage to asbestos.

It concluded schools were not complying with their legal duty to manage asbestos and training surrounding asbestos in schools was poor or non-existent.

The audit will be handed to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools Diana Johnson MP before a meeting with the Asbestos in Schools Group on Wednesday.

According to the National Union of Teachers (NUT), asbestos-related illness claimed the lives of 92 teachers and lecturers between 2001 and 2005.

Approximately 75% of schools contain the potentially deadly substance.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, the largest teachers' union, said: "Although the sample is small, the flaws highlighted reflect what the NUT has found to be the case over many years - that systems of asbestos management in schools fall far short of expectations.

"We simply must move forward on this issue. I call upon the Government to finally commit to a national audit of asbestos management in educational establishments. Only then will we have a true picture of a problem in urgent need of address."

Schools Minister Iain Wright said: "The health and welfare of pupils and staff is absolutely paramount - that's why we are listening carefully to the views of different groups on asbestos.

"By law, tough, robust processes must be in place in schools to carefully monitor asbestos. All local authorities and school employers must fully comply - no ifs or buts.

"The HSE'S expert advice is to remove damaged asbestos but it is safer to leave undisturbed or undamaged asbestos in place and carefully manage it.

"The HSE does not hesitate to take action in areas which are not coming up to scratch. The HSE and DCSF have surveyed every single local authority over the last year to assess their asbestos management and ensure that they are fulfilling their legal duties - the first ever such national audit.

"We will be producing further training and guidance on asbestos management for head teachers, governors and local authorities and we are setting up a steering group with campaigners, unions and other groups to help improve asbestos management in schools.

"We continue to invest record capital funding to sweep away the legacy of out-dated buildings - with thousands of schools being newly built, rebuilt or refurbished over the last decade and coming years. This means that local authorities and schools have funding to deal with asbestos during their rebuilding and refurbishment plans."

A spokesman for the HSE said: "The Health and Safety Executive and DCSF have just completed a survey of all local authorities in England to check that they are complying with their responsibilities to manage asbestos in schools.

"The majority provided evidence that demonstrated effective arrangements to manage asbestos.

"In a number of local authorities, where evidence of effective asbestos management arrangements was not provided, further investigations are being carried out by HSE inspectors."

Comments