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EDUCATION unions hit out at the government today for neglecting schools for over a decade after lawyers warned that the threat of asbestos is worsened following the concrete crisis.
The Slater and Gordon law firm said that any repairs that are carried out in schools with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) could disturb any asbestos contained within the buildings.
The firm’s findings show that a quarter of those working in education have no idea what asbestos is despite the fact they could be working near it in schools every day.
Use of the mineral in buildings was banned in 1999, but it is estimated that 1.5 million buildings across Britain still contain the cancer-causing material.
Asbestos-related diseases still claim at least 5,000 lives every year and a long latency period means that several decades can pass before the onset of symptoms.
Education unions have repeatedly called on the government to remove all asbestos from buildings.
Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said: “Schools work very hard to manage the risks posed by asbestos and use specialist contractors whenever work is done to areas of a school containing asbestos.
“The government’s failure to act on this issue is part of its neglect of the school estate which by its own analysis requires an £11.4 billion backlog of repairs.”
National Education Union general secretary Daniel Kebede said that 90 per cent of schools still contain asbestos, creating a real mix of risks along with crumbling concrete.
He said: “One of the first acts of the coalition government in 2010 was to abolish the Building Schools for the Future programme. This has set the tone for everything since.
“By ignoring the problems facing it, the government has an enormous task on its hands — one that has simply grown throughout this time of calculated neglect.”
NAHT policy officer Andy Walls said that more intrusive surveying work may be necessary to detect Raac in schools, leading to the risk of asbestos being disturbed or moved.
He said: “School staff are not structural engineers and should not be expected to have specialist expertise in this area.
“The government must help organise further, timely investigations, using qualified experts to remove Raac and asbestos discovered by surveys.
“There is an opportunity now for a government-funded phased removal of all asbestos from educational buildings, starting with the most dangerous first.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Alongside the Health and Safety Executive, we provide guidance to schools on how to manage asbestos. Asbestos is generally safe to be left in place.
Where asbestos needs to be removed as part of work to mitigate Raac, based on professional advice, the department will work closely with responsible bodies to help them do so.”
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