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JUAC Asbestos in Schools Conference

At its conference this week (Tuesday 4 July, 2017) the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) called for a commitment from the next Government to initiate a phased programme of removing all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first, by no later than 2028. This issues around asbestos were hotly debated by an expert panel, with the aim of raising awareness and sharing knowledge and ideas. 

JUAC says steps urgently need to be taken in the interim to improve asbestos management. Taking place at Hillscourt Conference Centre, Rednal, Birmingham, the National Conference entitled Asbestos in schools: revealing the hidden killer was the first such conference dedicated to discussing asbestos in schools.

Expert speakers at the event included Rachel Reeves MP chair of the Asbestos in Schools Group at Westminster, and Dawn Bowden AM chair of the Cross Party Group on Asbestos at the National Assembly for Wales. Campaigner Lucie Stephens, whose mother, died from mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure during her career as a teacher will share her knowledge alongside other asbestos campaigners, trade union officials, medical practitioners, and representatives from the Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Education.

Long term risks to health

The wider aim of the conference was to build a better understanding of the hidden dangers and long term risks to the health that asbestos poses to pupils and school staff. JUAC says it’s also vital to gain clearer understanding of the steps to take to manage asbestos.

The continuing presence of asbestos in our schools is a major problem, and there is a shocking lack of consistency in the way in which it is managed across the country.  Around 86% of schools contain asbestos and deaths from mesothelioma are increasing.  In 2014, 17 teachers aged 74 and under died of mesothelioma.  The total number of support staff deaths is not known.

Of even greater concern, particularly to parents, is that children are at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma in later life, because of exposure to asbestos at their school.  It is estimated that 200 – 300 former pupils are dying each year as adults because of exposure at school during the 1960s and 1970s. This number is likely to increase considerably because many of the system buildings, such as CLASP, with the most asbestos are deteriorating and inadequate funding and support is available for necessary maintenance, renovation and demolition.

Russell Hobby, NAHT General Secretary, says:

“Asbestos in schools is a serious and often neglected issue, and the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) conference will help highlight the dangers to school leaders, teachers and pupils. It is now clear that a national audit of asbestos in schools is needed, leading to a long term strategy for the phased removal of all asbestos. The school estate is chronically underfunded, with the National Audit Office estimating that there is a £6 billion gap in capital investment just to return school buildings to a satisfactory condition. We need a national debate on how this gap can be tackled. Every pupil deserves to be taught in high quality, safe and secure school buildings.”

Attendees at the conference included teachers, school leaders, governors, parents, school support staff, health and safety representatives, union local officers, Local Authority and Academy Trust staff, and others with an interest in the problem of asbestos in school buildings.

Find out more about the event here.

About the Joint Union Asbestos Committee

Founded in 2010, Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is a non-party political campaign.  JUAC protects education workers by raising awareness of asbestos in schools and promoting improved management of asbestos in education sector buildings.  JUAC aims to make UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos, both for staff and pupils.

The JUAC members are representatives from the trade unions ASCL, ATL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NUT, UNISON, Unite the Union and Voice.

More information about JUAC
First published 05 January 2018