Asbestos in schools: revealing the hidden killer

3 Nov

The JUAC National Conference, 4 July 2017, Birmingham
By Dr Morris Charlton, Voice’s Regional Officer (Yorkshire) and JUAC representative, for November 2017 Your Voice

JUACflyerOrganised by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), the event was the first national conference of its kind on asbestos, the hidden killer in our schools.

Keynote addresses were delivered by Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Asbestos in Schools (AIS) group ; leading asbestos campaigners, trade unions, medical practitioners, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Education.

At this pre-general election conference, JUAC called for:

  • a commitment from the next government to initiate a phased programme to remove all asbestos in schools, starting with the most dangerous first, by no later than 2028; and
  • steps to be taken urgently in the interim to improve asbestos management in schools.

Many of the issues surrounding asbestos were debated by an expert panel, with the aim of raising awareness and sharing knowledge and ideas with the packed audience.

Campaigner Lucie Stephens – whose mother died from mesothelioma (a type of cancer usually linked to asbestos exposure) following exposure to asbestos during her career as a teacher – shared her knowledge and experiences of supporting her mother and campaigning for the removal of asbestos from schools.

Delegates heard that the continuing presence of asbestos in our schools is a major problem, and there is a lack of consistency in the way in which it is managed across the country.

Around 86% of UK schools contain asbestos, and deaths from mesothelioma are increasing.  In 2014, 17 teachers aged 74 and under died of mesothelioma.  The total number of asbestos-related support staff deaths is not known.

Of even greater concern, particularly to parents, is that children are at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma in later life because of exposure to asbestos at school.  It is estimated that 200 to 300 adults are dying each year because of exposure at school during the 1960s and 1970s. This number is likely to increase considerably, because many of the system buildings, such as CLASP, containing the most asbestos, are deteriorating, and there is inadequate funding and support for necessary maintenance, renovation and demolition.

A unique and welcome presentation was also given by Spanish campaigners on how they took to the streets to rid their schools of asbestos.

Further information/presentations from the conference:

Presentation: Hugh Robertson, TUC

Presentation: Lucie Stephens: Asbestos in Schools: a personal perspective

Presentation: Sarah Lyons: Asbestos in Schools: Why Management Just Isn’t Working

Presentation: Samantha Peace, HSE

Presentation: Angeles Guzman, AVIDA/MACERO (Spain)

JUAC Health & Safety Rep Advice Sheet

JUAC: Freedom of Information Requests

British Asbestos Newsletter, Spring 2017

About JUAC 

Founded in 2010, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) comprises the union members of the Asbestos in Schools Group (AIS): ASCL,  NASUWT, NAHT, NEU, Voice, UNISON, Unite the Union, and GMB.  JUAC aims to protect education workers by raising awareness of asbestos in schools and promoting improved management of asbestos in education sector buildings, making UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos, both for staff and pupils.

You can find more information about the asbestos in schools campaign, as well as guidance documents and resources, on the JUAC website.

The Department for Education has issued specific Asbestos Awareness Guidance for UK Schools and Colleges. JUAC supports the guidance and encourages all school staff to access it.

See also the Asbestos in Schools E-Learning Module (ModernGovernor).


Staff removing some asbestos in a post of transformer, Reflection of mask of man opposite was created for cannot be recognized

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