Asbestos in schools causes concern

Concern has been raised by teaching unions, in particular the NUT, with the news that 90% of schools in Lancashire have been identified as having asbestos somewhere on the premises. The risks of asbestos are widely known and all buildings since 1999 have been banned from including asbestos in any form in their construction but with much of the building stock being much older than this – many schools in the area were built in the 1960s and 1970s – the chances of them including asbestos somewhere in their fabric is high.

Safely contained asbestos poses no threat

Surveys have been carried out in the schools in question and all of the asbestos has been found to be deep within the structure and to pose no threat. That said, it has been clarified to all those who may be concerned that it is essential that all contractors are employed through the council services and that no unauthorised work is taken out on any of the schools in question. Asbestos is dangerous because the fibres of which it is made can lodge in the lungs so if it is not disturbed in any way and the fibres are not in the air, it is essentially harmless.

Regular inspections

All the schools which are affected (an estimated 570 in total) are inspected every year to make sure that the existing asbestos has not been damaged or disturbed in any way. Any contractor who works in any of the affected schools will need to be licensed to deal with asbestos and the removal and destruction must be carried out according to strict guidelines. With proper handling, asbestos can be rendered harmless, but it should be pointed out that there is no accepted ‘minimum amount’ of asbestos which is considered safe. Zero amounts are the only measurements which are acceptable. Part of the problem is that various asbestos related diseases can take so long to manifest – up to fifty years or more in some cases – that it is impossible to accurately link the exposure to the disease and give accurate measurements of the degree.

New guidelines

The NUT have been putting pressure on central government about the problem of asbestos in schools and the response has been updated guidelines, dealing with the issue of asbestos. Mainly, the guidelines call for more training and awareness of asbestos and its dangers but this can also help people to understand the issue. Many people are not aware that asbestos in a structure is perfectly safe as long as not disturbed in any way. Others think that there is an acceptable minimum – for example, you can drill one hole but not three; you can plane asbestos materials, but not saw them. In fact, any disturbance can cause fibres to fly into the air and so the best advice when it comes to the handling of asbestos or asbestos containing materials (ACMs or mixed materials such as concrete and asbestos) is very simple – Don’t.

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