Labour Research (February 2012)

Health & Safety Matters

Asbestos plan slammed

Unions have called on the government to drop its plans to shift the responsibility for dealing with asbestos in schools from local authorities onto school governors.

The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is made up of the six main teaching unions along with members of the GMB, UCATT, Unite and UNISON working in the education sector. It said a recent judgment against the University of Lincoln, after staff were exposed to asbestos fibres, showed how easily things can go wrong if asbestos is not properly managed in educational institutions.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that school governors may be left to manage school buildings — around three-quarters of which contain asbestos — without access to local authority support and expertise.

Julie Winn, chair of JUAC and also a former chair of governors, is concerned that hard-pressed governors would not be able to cope with this additional responsibility. “Although more than 75% of all UK schools contain asbestos, currently there is not any specific school guidance for the management of asbestos nor any specific training on the management of asbestos in schools,” she said. “The government has also recently scrapped the health and safety inspections of schools that ensured they were achieving safe standards.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teachers and lecturers, said the management of asbestos in schools is “too important to leave to chance”.

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