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Call for 'urgent' asbestos audit

3 July 09 16:47 GMT

Sixteen teachers die on average each year from asbestos-related disease and an urgent audit must be carried out, the British Safety Council says.

Its chief executive, Brian Nimick, told a conference it was unacceptable that no risk assessment of the problem in schools had been carried out.

The National Union of Teachers said it wholeheartedly welcomed the BSC's call for better asbestos management.

Ministers said the health and welfare of teachers was paramount.

Mr Nimick told a conference on corporate responsibility there had been 228 asbestos-related deaths among teachers in the UK over the last 14 years.

He said an audit should lead to the register, and eventual removal, of asbestos.

'Vulnerable'

"It is unacceptable that the UK, in 2009, has not yet undertaken a national audit of asbestos in schools, has not comprehensively assessed the risks that teachers and pupils in each and every school face; and has not allocated appropriate resources to take urgent remedial action," he said.

He continued: "In 2009 it is estimated that more than 4,000 people will die from cancers caused by past exposure to asbestos in the workplace - making it the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

"In the short-term school heads and chairs of governors may want to ask themselves this question: 'Would you allow members of your family to attend a school or college where the asbestos risk had not been assessed?'"

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said she supported the call for a register, and had taken this up with Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier this year.

She said there was evidence that asbestos had caused the deaths of 92 teachers and lecturers between 2001 and 2005.

"Teachers, school staff and children need to be in a safe learning environment, with no risk to their health or safety," she said.

"In particular the risk assessment needs to focus on children, who are particularly vulnerable."

Several teaching unions have called for all asbestos to be removed from schools under the Building Schools for the Future Programme, a project to refurbish all secondary schools in England.

"While I am pleased that Gordon Brown has said that more needs to be done to solve this very serious problem, the present asbestos management policies are woefully inadequate," said Christine Blower.

Obligations

The government said it was heeding expert advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that it was safer to leave asbestos undisturbed - or remove it where it was likely to become so.

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the HSE was checking that local authorities were keeping their obligations to manage asbestos.

"The health and welfare of pupils and staff is absolutely paramount.

"By law, tough, robust processes must be in place in schools to carefully monitor asbestos which we and the Health and Safety Executive continually assess.

"It is unacceptable for local authorities and school employers not to fully comply - no ifs or buts."

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