NUT Asbestos Survey

NUT Conference 2017

17 April 2017

The findings of the NUT March 2017 online asbestos survey (attd) are deeply worrying and confirm the NUT’s concerns that asbestos is not being safely managed in all our schools.  Teachers and school staff are not being routinely informed whether their school contains asbestos and where it is located and this means that staff and pupils continue to be at risk of exposure to asbestos while in school.

Shockingly, nearly 50% of all respondents had not been told whether their school contains asbestos. This is concerning given that the majority of schools (86%) do contain asbestos. Less than 5% of respondents had been told that their school did not contain asbestos; therefore the majority of respondents either knew that asbestos was present in their school, or had not been told either way.

Of the 46% of respondents who had been told that their school contained asbestos:

  • Half had not been told where the asbestos was located. If staff are not given this information they cannot take steps to avoid disturbing it and they are at risk of exposure, as are pupils.
  • Nearly 75% said that the asbestos was in accessible locations, such as floors, ceilings, and window frames. Schools are unlike the majority of other workplaces in that the majority of their occupants are children, who engage in normal but boisterous behaviours that are likely to disturb asbestos.  It is known that children are more at risk because of the long latency period of asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma.
  • Three quarters said that staff had not been provided with asbestos awareness training.
  • Only 2% of respondents said that parents had been given information about the presence of asbestos in the school.
  • The majority of respondents (85%) had not been shown their school’s asbestos management plan.
  • Over three quarters were aware of incidents of potential asbestos exposure in their school.
  • Nearly half of all respondents were unaware of Health and Safety Executive advice that no World War One or Two gas masks should be worn or handled in schools because of the potential risk of asbestos exposure. Nearly 100 respondents said that such gas masks were still worn or handled in their school, with some respondents reporting that they had been used recently on school visits.

Comments from survey respondents show instances of staff being kept in the dark about the presence of asbestos in their school, being aware of asbestos exposure incidents and of such incidents being dealt with in a wholly inappropriate way.

“There is asbestos in our school but I only know this after having seen a notice on a wall. No one has ever informed me directly and I am not aware of any procedures in place. Recently our school had a leak that resulted in part of the ceiling being damaged and needing repair, this was in one of the asbestos areas. At no point was any member of staff told of the potential dangers.”

“School will not tell me if there is asbestos in my classroom. There are big chunks of plaster missing out of the walls. Children pick at this during lessons.”

“Contractors came in to work in an area known to have asbestos, they were masked and suited and started work while children were in the same room, unprotected, waiting for a bus. It was reported and they were sacked.”

“Children regularly punch holes in walls and dig holes in plaster covering the asbestos.”

“An asbestos tile fell off the classroom wall, the tile was broken. The tiles were removed one weekend by a specialist team but none of the dust etc. was cleared away. The head asked the cleaner to give it a quick hoover on the Monday morning when the class teacher noticed it had not been cleared away properly.”

“Asbestos management seems very lax and if anyone raises a concern or issues it is either laughed at by the head or we are told off for mentioning it.”

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“This survey reveals an appalling state of affairs in our schools. It certainly serves to strengthen our case for the Government to commit to a long-term strategy for the phased removal of asbestos from all our schools. 

“Parents need to be reassured that asbestos is being safely managed in their child’s school, something we clearly cannot be confident of at the moment. 

“The presence of asbestos in our schools is putting children and school staff at risk of developing mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused by exposure. The Government’s casual approach to the health of staff and children in our schools is totally unacceptable and needs to stop.”

 END                                       pr052-2017

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Editor’s Note

The NUT’s Annual Conference is taking place this Easter weekend in Cardiff. For the Final Agenda, please visit

NUT 2017 Asbestos Survey Report134 KB