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News Asbestos in Schools:

the Time Bomb Comment by Malcolm Underhill, IBB Solicitors

Hugh Baird College joins forces with

Army to deliver new military courses A new partnership between Merseyside's Hugh Baird College and the Army Reserve, the new name for the Territorial Army, has been unveiled.

It offers students of all ages the chance to sample a wide range of military trades, education and activities, and boost their transferrable job skills.

The project will initially offer a one day introduction course to students on the Bootle-based college's uniformed services courses which prepare students for either the armed or civilian public services. However, organisers believe the tasters will offer something for everyone and appeal to students on many other courses. The short courses will highlight army career specialisms including catering, logistics, engineering, mechanical, signals, medical and physical fitness work. Students will be able to visit the nearby Army Reserve Centre while other joint events could be held at Hugh Baird College – such as charity dinners with catering students and army chefs at the college's new L20 restaurant.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Busby, the Army’s Merseyside Garrison Commander, is one of the new partnership organisers.

“We wanted to build closer links with Hugh Baird College because of its huge range of courses and the diversity in students and staff,” he said. “We are starting our work with students on the uniformed services course. The potential to broaden our appeal to other students was one of the key factors which attracted us. Liverpool University already has an Officer Training Corps. However, this formal partnership with Hugh Baird College is our first with a further education college on Merseyside.”

Lt Col Busby said the North West region has four garrison commanders, all Army Reserve units in Merseyside fall under his command. He covers Merseyside and all local units have contact with him. There are nine regiments, or 'cap badges' in the Merseyside garrison, each with its own specialism; such as supply and engineering.

“The taster courses will offer an amazing choice,” he added. “There's something for everyone. For example the training we deliver in core army logistics provides


students with a thorough grounding in a range of disciplines. Essentially, we can equip students with diverse and transferable skills which will open up possibilities in a wide range of trades and professions.” The Army Reservist centre is located close to the Bootle-based college, offering students easy access to additional facilities and equipment.

Hugh Baird College director of vocational services Janet Trigg said the new partnership further strengthens the college’s uniformed course offering. Plans are already being considered for an autumn charity dinner with catering students working alongside army caterers.

"We are thrilled to be working with the Army Reserve in this exciting new partnership. It sums up the outlook of our entire department where our courses are specifically designed to suit all types of learners - from those with practical, hands- on skills to others wanting more academic options.

“We have two quite distinctive course routes. We have a very practical route linked to the NCFE awarding body. We also have the traditional, more academic BTEC route at levels two and three. So students have a great choice."

Hugh Baird College public service course manager Clarke Pinnington said: "Our department benefits from excellent experience, skills and contacts, which help students with work visits, networking and employment.”

Mr Pinnington said courses are aimed mainly at 16 to 19-year-olds leaving school or sixth form but some students are aged in their early and late 20s. “We firmly believe in flexibility and find some students wish to change direction once they have discovered the range of career options available. Our courses provide time to think about all career options and, importantly, the chance to change tack.” Lt Col Busby added: “We believe this partnership will help attract new recruits to the Army Reserve, and raise awareness of careers, education and activities within our sector on Merseyside. We also have excellent links with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines on Merseyside and the RAF in Formby.”

It was once thought that the risk of exposure to asbestos was restricted to those working in heavy industry. However, there has been a growing appreciation of the risk to others, particularly those in schools. Everyone attends school, so the potential number of people at risk of exposure and the consequences of contact with asbestos are greater than in any other workplace environment.

Despite this knowledge as to the toxicity of asbestos, there are still over 4000 deaths each year. It is further estimated that over the next 20 years, there will be approximately 100,000 deaths from asbestos. Around 75% of state schools in Britain contain asbestos. The condition of asbestos deteriorates over time and therefore the danger of asbestos fibres being inhaled is real. Teachers, assistants, technicians, cleaners, caretakers and children are all at risk.

This risk has been known about for many years, but the view of the HSE, even now, is that asbestos is best left untouched. They do not recommend automatic removal. This cannot be right, as asbestos will deteriorate and pose fatal risks. Indeed, the HSE accepts there is a risk of pupils damaging material containing asbestos.

As it is also accepted that there is no known threshold exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk, common sense surely dictates action must be taken to remove asbestos from Britain’s 25,000 state schools as soon as possible, to reduce the risk of exposure and death. As long as no action is taken, school staff and children will die. It is acknowledged that the number of teachers dying from mesothelioma has increased since the 1980s and without positive action being taken, that trend is likely to continue.

Britain should be ashamed of having the highest mesothelioma (asbestos) incidence in the world. Consequently, I disagree with the HSE’s approach, but agree with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety, which regarded the risk to staff and children as a “time bomb in our schools”.

If the Government adopts the HSE line, there is a risk of that bomb exploding in the faces of politicians but causing more direct damage to school staff, children and their families. How can such a state of affairs be tolerated? We must adopt a pro-active approach to asbestos management. A nationwide survey of schools revealed only 28% of schools said the presence of asbestos was clearly marked; only a third of respondents were aware a register of asbestos was kept; and, only 20% of schools confirmed such a register was shown to contractors. Better information and training needs to be delivered to schools, to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the existence of asbestos. Schools should adopt the American approach of providing parents with information about asbestos in schools. Schools must have a legal and moral obligation to work in partnership with parents to ensure children are safe.

Most importantly, as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety recommended, we must have a phased removal of asbestos from our schools. This can begin when we have a comprehensive database to identify schools at greater risk, so a plan is agreed upon to remove the most dangerous material at the earliest date.

June 2014

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