It is not just found around pipes and boilers. It is common in wall and ceiling tiles in classrooms and gives off very small, fine fibres which can be breathed in and cause disease many years later.
It is important that you find out the location of any asbestos-containing materials in your school. All schools (except where it is certain there is no asbestos) should have an asbestos survey, which is displayed in a prominent position and accessible to all staff. If the survey is not available, or you are unsure how to interpret it, ask the duty holder or head teacher specifically where asbestos in located.
Asbestos related deaths of teachers
Since 1980 at least 363 school teachers have died of mesothelioma, and 249 of those have died since 2001. Since 1980 a further 165 further and higher education teaching professionals have died from mesothelioma.
In 2016, 32 teaching professionals and 8 school support staff died of mesothelioma, a cancer linked exclusively to asbestos exposure. Some children may go on to develop mesothelioma as adults, as a result of exposure at school.
The Department of Health’s Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) concluded in June 2013 that children are more vulnerable to the effects of asbestos because they have longer to live in which to develop mesothelioma. It has been estimated that around 200-300 people die each year as adults from mesothelioma because they were exposed to asbestos when a pupil in school.
NEU policy is that all asbestos should be removed from all schools.
We campaign for its complete removal but recognise that staff and pupils need to be protected now, pending removal.
Asbestos is not always well-managed in all schools, so don’t assume that this is necessarily the case in your school. Exposure incidents occur regularly, sometimes leading to prosecutions, but we are also concerned about long-term, low level exposure which may not be noticed.
What does the NEU want?
- An independent review of Government policy.
- An audit to determine the extent of the problem and those schools most at risk.
- Proactive inspections to determine which schools are not effectively managing their asbestos.
- A long term strategy of progressive removal of asbestos, with priority given to the most dangerous.
We are pursuing these matters through the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, on which all the teaching and support staff unions are represented.
What can NEU members do to protect themselves and their students?
Above all – ask questions. A culture of openness is essential.
- Does your school contain asbestos? If staff haven’t been told, ask your head teacher at a staff meeting, or put a question to the governing body.
- If so, where is it located? It is a legal requirement for duty holders to determine the location of any asbestos in a building for which they are responsible. Ask for details to be displayed prominently in the staffroom. This information will enable you to avoid disturbing it, for example by pinning materials to walls and ceilings, and means you can report any deterioration to management, whether caused by wear and tear or vandalism. Check also that there is a procedure in place for alerting contractors working on school premises to the location of asbestos.
- How is it being managed? Ask to see a copy of the asbestos management plan. Again, it is a legal requirement for duty holders to prepare a plan setting out how risks will be managed.
For more detailed guidance, download our full factsheet.