Leicester NUT Section of the NEU

Andy Haynes, Leicester H&S Officer, 3rd June 2013

Health and Safety Matters - asbestos, school reps

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The recent NUT conference unanimously passed a motion calling on the union executive to intensify its campaign for the removal of all asbestos in school and to raise awareness of the dangers caused by the presence of asbestos in schools.

According to the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), over 140 school teachers have died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in the past ten years. It says an unknown number of cleaners, administrative staff, caretakers, cooks and midday supervisors have also died. Based on US estimates, it adds that over 100 people die every year in the UK as a result of asbestos exposure when they were at school. In recent months JUAC has campaigned intensively for the removal of asbestos in schools, including giving evidence at an enquiry into the problem held by the parliamentary Education Select Committee.

Sadly the government stick to the view that a national audit of the extent and condition of asbestos in our schools is not necessary and that the current management system is functioning satisfactorily.

It's true that asbestos is not dangerous until fibres are released into the atmosphere. Most asbestos has been removed from Leicester schools and the local authority in Leicester requires schools to monitor and maintain asbestos properly. Consequently, our schools are probably as safe as any in the country. However, this doesn't mean that there is no danger. If asbestos is damaged, there will be a delay before the damage is noticed. As soon as damage occurs, the asbestos will start to release fibres which may be inhaled by people in the area, and it only takes one microscopic fibre to cause mesothelioma.

All school staff should have been informed as to where asbestos is located in their building. If this has not happened, school Health and Safety Representatives are entitled to see the records of where asbestos is and evidence that it has been managed properly. If there is any concern about the condition of the asbestos, members should ask for a thorough inspection.

It can take many years for mesothelioma to develop after exposure to asbestos, which makes it very difficult to claim compensation should someone become ill. Members should keep a record of any possible exposure to asbestos that they may have suffered during their career. CLASP built schools, built from the mid 60s to the early 80s, are particularly likely to contain asbestos that is difficult to remove. Recently it has come to light in other areas of the country that warm air cabinet heaters (see photo) may contain asbestos that can be blown into the atmosphere. These should have been removed from Leicester schools, but if you have one of these types of heaters, and there is no record of the asbestos having been removed from it, please speak to your head teacher and contact the NUT office if you remain concerned.

School Health & Safety Representatives

Does your school have an NUT H&S representative? If not, why not consider putting your name forward to take on the role? It's an excellent way of getting more involved with the union. The job can be as large or as small as you are willing to make it and, although being H&S rep gives you certain rights, there are no legal responsibilities involved. Excellent training is provided by the NUT, if you wish to take up the opportunity. The next training courses will take place at Stoke Rochford Hall near Grantham between: 1st-5th July 2013, 3rd-7th February 2014 and 7th-11th July 2014. These courses are free to H&S representatives and include food and accommodation.


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