Asbestos in schools prompts air testing

Steve Mills

Steve Mills
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
6th November 2019

Throughout 2019, the spectre of asbestos in schools has again been rearing its head. Recently, fear over the presence of asbestos in Scottish schools has prompted a call in the Scottish Parliament for the air sampling to be carried out. Asbestos is present in around 1600 (around two thirds) of schools in Scotland, prompting Labour MSP Neil Bibby to ask, "Would the deputy first minister agree that there is a strong case for more regular air sampling on the school estate?", surely it would be better to establish good management programs in the first place?

This follows on from a report in July 2019 saying that around 80% of schools in England had asbestos present, prompting teaching unions to call for a programme to remove asbestos from all schools, although the vast majority of these (97%) were managing their asbestos effectively and in line with government guidelines. Hayley Dunn, Business Leadership Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders said following the report, "We need a programme to safely remove asbestos from school sites with investment phased according to the level of need. Managing asbestos is a stopgap. The only lasting solution is to get rid of it completely.”

Additionally, Chris Keates, acting general secretary of NASUWT said, “The NASUWT is deeply concerned to see that in a significant number of schools, asbestos is still not being managed safely. All steps must be taken to keep the staff and children safe…..we regret that the Government is simply not doing enough to protect staff and pupils."

A concerted effort to remove asbestos from all schools would be massively expensive, time-consuming, difficult to monitor and could even create a greater risk of exposure to fibres. It is well known that asbestos-containing materials in good condition should be managed, something that the vast majority are doing and appear to be doing well. Would it not be better to educate the small percentage who are not complying, either wilfully or through lack of knowledge?

In a time when schools are struggling for funding and equipment and with teachers and parents reaching into their own pockets, would it not be better to spend the vast sums that both ‘regular air testing’ (whatever that may look like) and a program of removal would involve, on the main business of the school - teaching.

Is it time to educate the educators?