Teachers’ leaders have cast doubt on the severity of an official report into the management of asbestos in schools. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which carried out the study, and the Department for Education, were demonstrating a “misplaced confidence” in the findings.
The study, published last week – almost 18 months after the original deadline of April 2009 – found that only 10 local authorities were ordered to make improvements into their asbestos management arrangements.
The initial stage of the assessment involved a questionnaire to be sent out to all local authorities which they simply had to complete and return, from this the HSE then decided as to whether or not the authority needed investigating further. Basically unless local authorities actually openly admitted to the failings in their systems, the HSE would not deem it necessary to investigate further resulting in 110 schools being cleared at this early stage.
From this a further 45 required further contact, of which 42 underwent a sample visit of schools by inspectors, and 19 were contacted for verification inspections to determine compliance with the law.
The study found that “the majority of these follow-up inspections by HSE confirmed that there was general good compliance with the duty to maintain asbestos”.
In all, 32 authorities were given additional advice on how to ensure their systems remained effective in the future.
The study looked particularly at areas with system-built schools, constructed between 1945 and 1980. A common feature of these is the fire-proofing of structural columns with asbestos-containing materials, known as ACMs, and enclosed by metal casings or cladding.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, which has been campaigning for better asbestos awareness in schools following a number of deaths of teaching staff, said: “While welcoming the survey as a step in the right direction, the NUT views this (the HSE’s) confidence as misplaced.
Apart from the fact that the survey was restricted to asbestos management in system-built schools, we question how it can be claimed that the majority of local authorities meet legal requirements in terms of asbestos management when only 42 were actually visited by HSE inspectors.”
The argument put forward is that the true understanding of the nature of the problem can only be gained with a ‘full independent’ national audit of all schools.
For the full report visit: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/article/article.html?uid=78666;type_uid=18