676 Schools Reported to HSE Over Non-Compliance with Asbestos Regs, DfE Admits
- Date: Tuesday 16th July 2019
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Almost 700 schools have been reported to the HSE for failure to put in place adequate asbestos management systems, according to information revealed to a campaigner by the Department for Education after a Freedom of Information request.
The FOI request sought information on the outcome of the DfE’s Asbestos Management Assurance Process, which sought confirmation from schools that they were managing asbestos risks in line with the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
The DfE revealed that 676 state-funded schools or academies have been reported to the HSE over their asbestos management as “their plans and procedures were not in line with good practice”.
The DfE declined to identify the schools concerned, but promised that “follow-up action will be taken”, presumably by the HSE.
In addition, the DfE intends to support another group of schools that, although meeting regulatory requirements, “at the time of data collection their plans processes and procedures were not in line with good practice to address any areas of concern”.
The FOI release came in the same week as the HSE released its latest annual figures on the number of deaths from mesothelioma, the asbestos-related lung cancer that is almost exclusively occupational.
It revealed that 2,523 people died of mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2017, a level that has been stable for the past five years. The regulator expects the number of deaths to remain broadly at current levels for the rest of the decade before beginning to reduce.
Also, 2,025 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) in 2017, including 235 cases in women. This compares with 2,170 new cases in 2016, including 240 women.
The statistics describe a male-dominated and older age profile for mesothelioma sufferers aged 70 and over, “reflecting the fact that this generation of men had the greatest potential for asbestos exposures in younger working life during the period of peak asbestos use in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s”.
As well as mesothelioma deaths, the HSE calculates that asbestos-related lung cancer accounts for around 2,500 deaths a year.
The request was submitted in April by campaigner Lucie Stephens, who is seeking to raise awareness of ongoing asbestos risks in schools after her mother, former primary school teacher Sue Stephens, died of mesothelioma in June 2016, at the age of 68.
The AMAP process required all state-funded schools to proactively confirm that they were complying with the Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2012 by making a declaration of compliance.
Schools had to provide evidence that they had sought professional advice on asbestos in their buildings, and that they had an up to date action plan that was reviewed every two years.
The original deadline for responding to the DfE’s online survey was 31 May 2018, but to due to the poor response rate this was extended to 25 June and then 27 July 2018, by which date only 77% of schools had responded.
The survey was then reopened and the deadline for responding extended a third time, to 15 February 2019. According to the FOI response, 19,522 schools in total responded.
According to the DfE response, 2,952 “responsible bodies” checked the submissions from individual schools, a process which revealed that 87% (of responsible bodies were overseeing asbestos management in at least one of the schools they are responsible for.
However, another 4,149 responsible bodies provided incomplete information, indicating that at least one school they were responsible for has not had their response assured.
The DfE response also said that full details of the AMAP survey outcomes would be published shortly.
Reacting to the FOI response, Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The fact that nearly 700 schools have been referred to HSE because they weren’t able to satisfy the DfE that they were managing their asbestos in line with legal requirements, is a shocking indictment of current systems of oversight.
“The lives of thousands of staff and pupils could be at risk in these schools. The HSE, which lacks resources following years of budget cuts, will now be expected to investigate these cases and we are concerned that it may struggle to do so.”