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Government publishes long overdue schools report on asbestos

Report calls for more transparency from schools but 'lacks long-term strategy', says leading asbestos lawyer

19 March 2015

After a delay of about 8 months, the Department for Education has finally published its report for the review of asbestos policy for schools in England.
This remains a major concern for pupils, teachers and other staff as some recent reports indicate that asbestos is still present in nearly 9 out of 10 schools.  This asbestos can be found in numerous places such as in ceilings, walls, heaters and around pipes.  
The Government’s report has called for more transparency from schools.  It also confirmed its commitment to remove asbestos from those schools undergoing refurbishment under the Priority Schools Building Programme.  However, for the majority of schools not falling within this programme, asbestos will remain for many years.  
Therefore, a number of measures were also proposed that would determine whether schools were managing their asbestos appropriately.
But despite welcoming the developments, campaigning groups such as the Asbestos in Schools Group voiced concern about the ‘lack of long term strategy’, with its members saying the report was without vision on how to eradicate the deadly dust from educational establishments altogether.   
Vijay Ganapathy, who sits on the Asbestos in Schools Group and is a specialist asbestos lawyer at Leigh Day, said: “I am pleased that, despite delays, this report has now been made public and that it contains a number of amendments to policy which will provide some help to English schools with the monitoring and management of asbestos.
“However, whilst this is certainly a step in the right direction, the report falls short in many respects. 
It is generally agreed the safest option for pupils and staff, is for all asbestos to be removed.  Previously, there was concern the removal process itself, could cause further release of asbestos fibres.  However, removal methods have greatly improved so it is deeply disappointing the Government has not introduced any long term strategy to eradicate asbestos from our schools all together.
The Department for Education acknowledges the risk to school staff and pupils from asbestos exposure and that children are at greater risk of developing mesothelioma when compared to adults.
Therefore, the focus should be on total eradication with a view to ensuring that no pupil or member of staff is put at risk.”

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