Health and Safety Matters - Asbestos, Temperatures, Training
It's Out There
During a recent NUT H&S inspection, a city primary school was found to have asbestos in two wall heating cabinets of the type mentioned in City Teacher earlier in the year. After the NUT notified the Authority about this, they took prompt action, removing the asbestos and replacing the heaters during the summer holiday. Our thanks go to them for this.
Unfortunately, however, it has now come to light that the school has asbestos in ceiling tiles. These could probably be removed without too much difficulty, but even more alarmingly, there is asbestos in floor tiles under a carpet in the head teacher's office. Understandably, the asbestos report is probably not the first thing a new head teacher would ask to look at.
Leicester NUT has asked the authority to remove this asbestos as well, but as the policy of the authority (in common with most authorities) is to manage, not remove, asbestos, it is far from certain that they will agree to do this. There is no suggestion that this asbestos is currently dangerous, but it could become so. After all, an unexploded bomb is not dangerous until it is disturbed and goes off.
Seventy-five percent of UK schools contain asbestos. Most asbestos has been removed from Leicester schools, but if it is considered to be in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed it has been left in place. Do you know where there might be asbestos in your school? If it was built between 1945 and 1990, there's almost certainly some somewhere,
and there may be in other schools as well, perhaps in strange places like ironing board heat-proof mats.
Where it has been left in place, it should be labelled. Look for the warning symbols. The asbestos under the carpet is not labelled because it's not practicable to stick labels on a carpet. Ask if there is any unlabelled asbestos in your building. The law states that all asbestos in a building must be recorded and the register has to be easily available for inspection. If your managers don't know, ask your NUT H&S rep to inspect the records and find out. Is asbestos situated somewhere it could be easily disturbed and damaged? If so, speak to your head teacher about it and ask them why it hasn't been removed.
Most teachers seem to think that asbestos isn't a serious problem for them, but statistics show that 16 teachers a year currently die in Britain from asbestos related diseases. It is almost impossible to ascertain how many people develop diseases in later life, having been exposed to asbestos as children in schools, but it is likely to be many times more. Why put up with asbestos? You wouldn't teach with an unexploded bomb in the room!
Incidentally, despite the expense, all the asbestos has been removed from the House of Parliament.
Going Hot and Cold
Even before the summer heat wave struck, the NUT was involved in the Cool-It campaign aimed at tackling excessive temperatures at work. The NUT Health and Safety Unit intends to put together a list of the issues, demonstrating how excessive workplace temperatures affect teachers (and indeed pupils). If anybody has any useful stories to relate, please tell me so that I can pass on the information.
Of course, over the next few months we are more likely to be concerned about being asked to work in low temperatures. In a misguided piece of legislation, the government lowered the minimum working temperature for schools to 16C in line with other places of work. Anybody who has tried to work in these conditions will know how difficult it is to function effectively, and it must be far worse for a child who cannot get up so easily and move around. If school managers are reluctant to do something about low temperatures, it may be worth pointing out the effect on pupil progress.
H&S Reps Training Courses
The courses for H&S reps this year will take place at Stoke Rochford Hall between Monday 3 - Friday 7 February 2014 and Monday 7 - Friday 11 July 2014. Any reps who have not attended one of these courses are encouraged to attend. Contact me for more information or look at the NUT website.