Asbestos in Warm Air Cabinet Heaters – A Warning for Schools - press release
22 April 2013
Schools are today being sent an urgent warning by JUAC* to check whether they have warm air cabinet heaters that might contain asbestos fibres. This warning is essential to protect the health and safety of pupils and staff.
The warning follows asbestos fibres being found in warm air cabinet heaters in Cwmcarn High School in Wales in October 2012, which led to the school being closed in October 2012 - and it still remains closed. When tests were carried out at the school by HSL - asbestos experts appointed by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – they found that asbestos fibres were being released from the school’s heaters into the classrooms.
The tests on the school carried out by HSL in 2012 confirmed that asbestos fibres were being released at levels of 1,700 to 4,300 amosite (brown asbestos) fibres per cubic metre of air when the heaters were running and were knocked , as would happen if the classroom were occupied. At this level anyone in the room would inhale up to 4,000 fibres an hour.
It has been known since 1981 that asbestos fibres can be released from warm air cabinet heaters, and in 1982 the HSE issued guidance to schools to seal or preferably remove the asbestos panels from the heaters.
It is vital that schools have checks carried by professional asbestos consultants to see whether they have warm air cabinet heaters and whether these contain asbestos. And if they do, the heaters must be made safe.
JUAC have today issued a warning to schools to get their heating systems checked.
The warning is specifically about warm air cabinet heaters where the cabinets were constructed on site. Other types of heaters can also contain asbestos materials which also need to be checked against guidance in the Gas Safe Register, which has a list of gas and electrical heaters known to contain asbestos; although this is not an exhaustive list.
JUAC will continue to campaign for a national audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in UK schools and for a risk assessment of the standards of asbestos management. Only then can the UK Government allocate proportionate resources and target those schools most at risk. JUAC’s long-term aim is the phased removal of all asbestos from UK schools and colleges.
JUAC Chair Julie Winn said: “It was simply wrong of David Ashton, a senior HSE director, to say in evidence to the Select Committee that ‘it is perfectly safe to reopen that school ….’. The Government’s own advisory committee, WATCH, confirmed that there are no levels below which it is safe to be exposed to asbestos.”
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, schools must maintain and regularly update an asbestos register with the location and condition of asbestos-containing materials in the school.
Julie Winn said: “The Cwmcarn High School case clearly demonstrates the confusion around asbestos management and the poor management of it in many schools. Although three separate asbestos consultants reported the potential for asbestos fibre release in the school, as its heaters contained unsealed and damaged asbestos panels and asbestos debris, it as taken six months to reach an agreement to remove the dangerous asbestos so that the school can be safely reopened. The HSE’s continued failure to issue a Report on its investigation shows a lack of transparency and has added to the confusion for staff, governors and parents.”
Over 75 per cent of Britain’s state schools contain asbestos, according to the Asbestos in Schools: the need for action report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. The report reveals that much of the asbestos is badly maintained, meaning that children and staff are exposed to this killer fibre.
More than 140 school teachers have died from mesothelioma (a cancer that is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos) in the past ten years. An unknown number of cleaners, administrative staff, caretakers, cooks and dinner time supervisors have also died. It is also unknown how many children have been killed by exposure to asbestos at school, but in the US it was estimated that for every one teacher who dies, nine former pupils will die in adulthood from their exposure as a child. In the UK that would mean that more than 100 people are dying every year as a result of asbestos exposure when they were at school.
The full warning is available from all the JUAC member unions and from the JUAC website.
For more information please contact:-
JUAC – Julie Winn (Chair) – firstname.lastname@example.org – 01132 231400
*JUAC is a trade union campaigning committee comprising the six main education unions: Association of School and College Leaders; Association of Teachers and Lecturers; National Association of Head Teachers; NASUWT; National Union of Teachers; Voice; plus the education sections of Unite, UNISON, UCATT and the GMB: www.juac.org.uk.
The Group has the objective of making all UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos. All the unions in JUAC are members of the Asbestos in Schools (AIS) campaign.