Unions concerned about asbestos in Northamptonshire schools' equipment

Asbestos has existed in bunsen burner gauzes since the 1970s
Asbestos has existed in bunsen burner gauzes since the 1970s

Bosses from two unions have called for phased removal of asbestos from Northamptonshire's schools.

The NASUWT teaching union and GMB say they are very concerned that schools do not have the capacity to manage asbestos at a time when Government funding for schools is falling.

It comes after the Department for Education (DfE) instructed schools to remove all bunsen burner gauze mats after highlighting that the equipment may contain dangerous asbestos that could cause harm to staff and pupils.

NASUWT county secretary Richard Kempa said, “Our members are being put at risk by asbestos which is a killer. Our aim is that all asbestos is removed from all schools given that 75 per cent of schools have asbestos.

"This is a dereliction of duty by central government and our schools are becoming less safe. Our members are under enough pressure already with increasing workload, bigger class sizes and changes to external exams.

"The government are on notice to improve funding for schools to make them safer places not just for our members, but for children and young people also.”

Even low-level of exposure to asbestos fibres can cause both mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the lung,

The GMB said a Government report last year found that thousands of schools are failing to follow safety guidelines,and not being fully compliant with asbestos procedures.

GMB representative Rachelle Wilkins said: "Mesothelioma often does not appear until around 40 years after the person first breathes in the dust, so there is a time bomb ticking in Northamptonshire schools. The only safe asbestos is removed asbestos.

"The council must bring forward proposals for the phased removal of all asbestos in its schools without delay.”

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said asbestos poses minimal risk as long as it is regularly monitored and goes undisturbed.

“The risks of asbestos in schools is a growing concern of Government and has led the ESFA, an agency of the Department for Education, to launch an on-line survey, called the Asbestos Management Assurance Process.

“Whilst we have made head teachers responsible for property maintenance, the county council does play a role in ensuring properties are safe.

“As such we will continue to work with all partners to make sure buildings meet the highest standards and will look to implement remedial work as budgets allow.”

Meanwhile, local construction business Mick George Ltd has announced a special ‘collection’ scheme that will see the ‘environmental’ specialists visit education providers throughout Northamptonshire on Tuesday, October 30.

The firm will be conducting collections at a significantly reduced cost of just £1 per gauze mat and has vowed to donate proceeds raised to Mesothelioma UK - a national specialist resource centre, specifically for the asbestos-related cancer.

Any education providers that wish to request a collection should register as soon as possible at www.mickgeorge.co.uk/asbestos-school-collection.

Stephen Summerfield, Environmental Director at Mick George Ltd, said: ‘’The threat of asbestos is a very real one and is something that Mick George Environmental take very seriously. We would urge any education providers that have the potentially harmful gauze mat equipment on site not to take a chance and let our experienced team collect them safely.’’