The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) has issued a vigorous attack on measures taken by Governments to remove asbestos within the nation’s schools. In conducting a report, the JUAC describe “decades of lax attitudes”. They describe the methods used by successive Governments to tackle the asbestos problem as a “national scandal” which has, and continues to threaten, the lives and health of schoolchildren and staff, who may be unwittingly exposed to asbestos.
The JUAC have pulled no punches when they further opine that Whitehall “has a scandalous disregard for life”. They justify the claim by alleging that Whitehall has permitted inadequate asbestos surveys to be conducted, having also actively campaigned against compulsory detection. The JUAC claim that measures such as compulsory detection would prevent future cases of the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma arising.
Indeed they point to a failure of schools to keep records of asbestos within their buildings and also to inform the parents of those children about this. If parents were aware of the scale of the asbestos problem within a school, they may well demand further action.
Unfortunately, asbestos is not just found within the hard to reach bowels of the school buildings, indeed asbestos can often be found on panelling on the walls, ceilings, floors and the general structure of the school. If the classrooms and corridors contain asbestos then due to the nature of children and staff working and moving through these spaces there is a danger that the asbestos will become disturbed. When asbestos is disturbed and is in a dry and flaky state, resulting in fibres becoming airborne, it carries a potent risk to health and could cause asbestos related conditions, such as mesothelioma, pleural thickening, asbestos related lung cancer and asbestosis.
Whilst asbestos may seem like a problem of the past, it is saddening to note that the UK has the highest recorded rates of mesothelioma in the world. Even more worryingly, the rate of mesothelioma diagnoses continues to rise.
The strong words by the JUAC, are echo’s of previous calls to remove asbestos in schools as well as council buildings throughout the country. Full scale removal of the asbestos within all public buildings has been rejected, mostly on the basis of cost and logistical grounds.
Further Unions have expressed their support with the JUAC in view of their report. In particular the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) are demanding the Government takes action to combat the asbestos problem.
The Government has responded and indicated that billions have been invested throughout the schools’ estates, with further funds to come. They assert that this will promote the safe management of asbestos and updated methods of collating information regarding asbestos have now been adopted.
This has not satisfied many, with may experts believing that the true scale of asbestos hidden within school buildings is unknown, due to a lack of any comprehensive survey on this.
Clearly another concern is that any exposure to asbestos may occur with the person suffering exposure being unaware. As a result if the person develops an asbestos related condition at a later date, they may not be able to seek any redress in the form of asbestos disease compensation.
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