UKATA responds to latest findings on the killer dust from the BBC
A story run today by the BBC concerning Devon man Mr Wallace and his exposure to asbestos in schools is concerning enough, but the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) says that figures obtained by the BBC suggesting that asbestos may be more prevalent in schools than previously thought will not come as a surprise to those working in the industry.
Asbestos was widely used as a building material in the 60s and 70s and while banned in the UK in 1999 once the health risks became apparent, the damage was already done. While asbestos can be managed safely if left undisturbed, the latest findings have led to renewed calls to make schools safer.
“UKATA has been campaigning on the issue of asbestos in schools and public buildings generally for some time now,” said Craig Evans, General Manager of UKATA. “While figures from the BBC that suggest asbestos is present in nine out of ten schools are higher than official estimates, it will comes as no surprise to those involved in health and safety. The point to make is that asbestos can be managed, as long at the wider issues raised by this killer dust are not swept under the carpet.”
Only last year, UKATA issued warnings to Birmingham City Council after the authority advised Yardley School to open despite being contaminated by asbestos following a fire at a nearby industrial estate and Craig has also written several articles on the situation with regard to asbestos in schools and used the case of Mr Wallace as an example.
In post war 1940s Britain, cheap building materials that offered the finest qualities were understandably popular which led to the wide use of asbestos, particularly in schools. The chances are therefore high that any school built between 1945 and 1980 contains asbestos.
Mr Wallace was awarded £275,000 by Devon County Council as a result of being exposed to asbestos while a school boy in Devon, after being diagnosed with mesothelioma (a terminal cancer associated with asbestos exposure) and his case may not be the last.
Asbestos is still the biggest workplace killer in the UK and The House of Commons Education Committee heard as many as 300 former school pupils develop asbestos related cancer every year, while the National Union of Teachers has called for all asbestos in schools to be removed.
“Due to asbestos being bound up with the integral structures of so many school buildings, removal programmes would be costly and in many cases, impractical,” added Craig. “But if the correct steps are taken to comply with the law and treat responsibility for asbestos management with the seriousness it deserves, the risk to staff, students and contractors can be managed effectively.”
When undisturbed asbestos is usually harmless, however the danger occurs when asbestos dust becomes airborne and is subsequently inhaled as the result of the damaging or degrading of materials that contain it. The dangerous nature of asbestos means that anyone liable to disturb asbestos during their work, or who supervises such employees, receives the correct level of information, instruction and training to enable them to carry out their work safely and competently and without risk to themselves or others.
The HSE website contains sections dedicated to providing information and advice for the effective management of asbestos in schools. See http://www.hse.gov.uk/services/education/asbestos-faqs.htm
UKATA sets standards in asbestos training and ensures that its members meet those standards. A full list of approved asbestos training providers can be found on the UKATA website, www.ukata.org.uk
Notes to editors
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REF: UKATA0189 – Asbestos in Schools