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Fined For Asbestos In School

Friday, November 29, 2013

GMB Welcomes Fines For Aston Manor Academy & Birmingham Glass Services Ltd For Endangering School Workers To Exposure To Killer Asbestos 

GMB is very concerned, schools that have and are moving over to Academy Status are not putting these vital procedures in place and putting staff, pupils and parents at risk of this highly dangerous hidden killer.

GMB, the union for school support staff, welcomed fines for Aston Manor Academy, and Birmingham Glass Services Ltd failure to properly manage refurbishment works and endangering school workers to exposure to asbestos.

Equitas Academies Trust, the owner and operator of Aston Manor academy and Birmingham Glass Services Ltd were jointly prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found they put employees at unnecessary risk from exposure to asbestos in the incident on 6 June 2012. The incident cost the school £20,000 through decontamination and replacement of floor coverings. Soft furnishings and children’s work had to be disposed of and parts of the school could not be used for the second part of the summer term. Equitas Academies Trust, of Phillips Street, Aston, Birmingham, was fined £7,500 with £3,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Birmingham Glass Services Ltd, (BGS) of Lightning Way, West Heath, Birmingham, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,969 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court found that Equitas Academies Trust undertook a project in the spring and summer of 2012 to replace old windows at the academy. The school appointed Birmingham Glass Services Ltd (BGS) to do the work, having previously used the company for other projects.

The court was told that four BGS workers attended the site, but did not receive an induction by any employee of Equitas Academies Trust. Nor was any information provided to the glass company’s employees on the location of any asbestos containing materials. The school’s site manager told the BGS employees that ‘to the best of his knowledge’ there was no asbestos containing materials in the window area.

While removing the windows, two of the BGS employees encountered strips of asbestos insulating board (AIB) packers, which prevented them from installing the new windows. The packers were removed from the frame using a crowbar, then snapped and dumped next to an asbestos decontamination unit on the school site that was being used for unrelated work by licensed asbestos removal contractors.

HSE found that along with not receiving information on where asbestos could be found in the building, these two employees had not received asbestos awareness training; and had not been provided with any form of personal protective equipment, such as face masks or protective clothing. They were therefore exposed to loose asbestos fibres while removing the asbestos packers and breaking them into pieces. Magistrates also heard there were no emergency procedures in place for the employees if asbestos was disturbed.

GMB has a large membership in schools with members working as Support Staff such as Teaching Assistants, caretakers, dinner ladies, cleaners, laboratory technicians all of who could potentially be exposed to asbestos on a daily basis.

As long ago as February 2012 GMB warned of the grave danger from asbestos in schools highlighted by recommendations in the report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on “Asbestos in Schools – the need for action”. You can find the report at www.gmb.org.uk/work-issues/health-safety-and-environment/supporting-gmb-members   

Gillian Whittaker, GMB Birmingham & West Midlands Region Organiser said, “This incident could have been avoided if Aston Manor Academy had put correct procedures in place and ensured all relevant parties understood their duties around minimising the risk of exposure to asbestos

GMB is very concerned, schools that have and are moving over to Academy Status are not putting these vital procedures in place and putting staff, pupils and parents at risk of this highly dangerous hidden killer.

The school and the glass firm have been fined after pleading guilty in court. This is not enough, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen and our children and our members are not put in this unnecessary danger.

GMB is sending a survey to all head teachers and GMB members within schools to identify which schools contain asbestos material. GMB will use this information to campaign for the removal of this hidden killer from our schools.

Paul Thompson HSE inspector said, “This incident would have been avoided had the academy put procedures in place to ensure that relevant parties understood their duties around minimising the risk of asbestos exposure inside the school.

By not providing asbestos awareness training to their operatives and not taking steps to ensure that they had information on where asbestos was in the premises before works commenced, Birmingham Glass Services Ltd failed in their duty to protect their employees and members of the public from potential exposure to asbestos.

Workers exposed to asbestos could have posed a health risk to others in the long term, even their families and loved ones, by taking home their contaminated clothing.

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Building owners and contractors have a duty to ensure they protect their workers from risk of exposure. Equitas Academies Trust and Birmingham Glass Services Ltd failed to do so.”

Ends

Contact: Gillian Whittaker, GMB Organiser on 07850 768351 or Sam Jones GMB Press Officer on 07939 874272 or GMB Press Office: 07974 251823 or 07921 289880.

Notes to Editors:

1          GMB Press release dated February 1012 warning of the hidden killer (Asbestos) in UK schools. GMB Warns Of Dangers From Asbestos In Schools As New All Party Report Set Outs Six Action Points To Protect Pupils And Staff From Hidden Killer

There is a real risk of increasing the danger of asbestos in schools buildings killing pupils and staff alike if these recommendations are not properly implemented and there is not a mandatory system of accountability says GMB

There is a real risk of increasing the danger of asbestos in schools buildings killing pupils and staff alike if these recommendations are not properly implemented and there is not a mandatory system of accountability. GMB is calling for cast iron guarantees that all schools opting out of local authority control will properly account to parents and staff on a regular basis as to how they plan to implement the report’s important recommendations.

The six recommendations in the report are as follows:

1            The government should set a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority being given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.

2            Standards in asbestos training should be set and the training should be mandatory. The training should be properly funded.

3            It is recommended that the DfE and HSE jointly develop asbestos guidance for schools and that current standards be reviewed.

4            A policy of openness should be adopted. Parents, teachers and support staff should be annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.

5            Pro-active inspections to determine the standards of asbestos management should be reinstated, with a view to reducing future costs.

6            Data should be collected centrally on the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools and this becomes an integral part of the data collection of the condition of the nation’s schools.

John McClean, GMB National Health & Safety Officer said, “GMB endorses the statement from Jim Sheridan MP, who chairs the APPG on asbestos, where he states – “This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust”.

GMB recognises that this is not a new problem and there has been a failure by successive governments to even acknowledge the scale of the problem. The publication of the booklet gives an opportunity to finally address the problem by acting on the six recommendations within the report.

As schools become unaccountable under academy status and the state education system breaks up, the government must reassure parents and school staff that their schools will not kill them.

All school governors, and head teachers in schools accountable to local authorities and those that are not must make sure they know how to combat this danger in their schools and protect the pupils and staff. A carefully planned, phased removal of asbestos from all schools will not be cheap but is necessary. They have to be accountable to parents and staff on a regular basis for this.”

Ends

Contact: John McClean, GMB National Health & Safety Officer on 07710631329 or 01462 492400 or Dan Shears, GMB National Health & Safety Officer on 07918 787781 or 020 7391 6715

Notes to Editors:

1.1        The APPG report – Asbestos in Schools – the need for action was published on Wednesday 1st February 2012 and is available in additional resources at the bottom of www.gmb.org.uk/work-issues/health-safety-and-environment/supporting-gmb-members 

1.2        The APPG Group on Asbestos is a Sub Group of the APPG on Occupational Health.

2          For further information relating to the Asbestos in Schools campaign please contact GMB etc  

3          Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

4          Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

5          Information and advice about working safely with asbestos can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos[1]

 

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