The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department for Education (DfE) and Welsh Government have warned schools and colleges about asbestos in ceramic gauzes routinely used with Bunsen burners in school and college science laboratories, which from some suppliers have been found to contain asbestos.
The DfE has contacted all secondary schools/academies, sixth form colleges, FE colleges and independent schools. The HSE warning has also been circulated by the Welsh Government to local authorities in Wales. Because of concerns that, despite this action, in some cases the message may have been overlooked, we would urge National Education Union (NEU) members, reps and local officers to share this information locally to ensure that it is received and acted upon wherever necessary by Science departments.
The HSE states that both of the supply companies concerned have ceased supply of the gauze mats and are overseeing arrangements to contact affected customers and provide precautionary advice on how the mats should be disposed of safely.
The NEU has been unable so far to obtain the names of the two suppliers which are known to have supplied gauzes containing asbestos from the HSE because of the ‘on-going investigation’. If anyone is aware of the names of either of these companies please contact us
What action should schools and colleges take?
It is shocking that suppliers have distributed life-threatening equipment to schools and colleges, putting young people and staff at risk, and unacceptable that the HSE refuses to name the two suppliers involved. In these circumstances, however, our first concern must be to help ensure that the HSE, CLEAPSS and DfE’s advice is received and acted upon.
- Immediate steps need to be taken to remove current gauze supplies from use until it is established whether the gauzes used in any school or college have been provided from an asbestos-free source. Information about how to store potentially contaminated gauzes and dispose of gauzes that are contaminated is provided on the HSE website, with further advice, including a Q&A briefing, provided by CLEAPSS on its website. It is important that schools and colleges follow this advice carefully.
- Schools and colleges need to immediately contact any supplier of scientific equipment they have used to purchase ceramic gauzes and ask them to provide a reassurance that the gauzes they have provided are asbestos free. It is important not to rely on verbal reassurance. Suppliers should be asked for a copy of a recent test certificate from a UKAS accredited test company. Advice on buying replacement gauzes is provided by CLEAPSS in Guide GL285 .
- Science departments may need to reschedule practical science lessons until such time that they can secure a fresh supply of gauzes but the safety of staff and students is of the utmost importance so NEU would urge all schools and colleges to follow this advice.
- Science teachers must not be required to carry out the removal of suspect gauzes. In line with CLEAPSS advice, if there are no competent person(s) on site then a specialist asbestos removals contractor may be used. See the CLEAPSS advice for further information about disposal.