ASBESTOS NEWS !
Britain’s biggest union tonight accuses the Brexit Minister of trying to weaken asbestos laws while he was a backbencher.
Unite highlighted a series of questions tabled by Steve Baker, who was last week handed a plum job negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU, which it says prove he wants to water down health and safety protections.
In October 2010 Mr Baker asked the Government to “bring forward proposals to amend the provisions of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 to distinguish the white form of asbestos and the blue and brown forms of that substance”.
Mr Baker was also mentioned in a 2015 report by the Conservative Rural Affairs Group which makes a distinction between inhaling blue and brown asbestos, and the white form.
The CRAG wanted to able to use asbestos cement sheets on farms.
The summary, available online, says: “The possibility of a UK derogation to allow the re-use of end of life asbestos cement sheets on farms was debated at the AGM of the Conservative Rural Affairs Group (CRAG) on 6th May 2009, since when CRAG has lobbied for such a derogation.”
Unite’s assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said it was “alarming that an MP who holds such extreme views on asbestos has been given such a sensitive position”.
She added: “It demonstrates the Prime Minister is more interested in appeasing hardline Brexiters rather than the welfare of workers
“Following these revelations it is essential that very senior Government ministers give a cast iron guarantee that the existing asbestos regulations will not be weakened or modified and the safety of workers will remain the priority.
“With thousands of people dying every year, directly as a result of being exposed to asbestos, the priority must be to ensure that the existing safety laws are adhered to and employers who ignore this life saving legislation are prosecuted and convicted.”
EU rules, including tough laws on asbestos, will be passed into UK law through the Repeal Bill, which was outlined in the Queen’s Speech.
Ministers have said each law can be scrapped, amended or left unchanged over the coming years.
Norfolk County Council lists 392 schools that contain the material, but refused to name the seven schools where exposure happened.
One incident came when “screws fell out of skylight whilst being opened”, and three were due to contractors working unsafely.
The full list was:
• 14/03/11 – Unsafe contractor working practices
• 21/08/12 – Contractor working unsafely
• 08/11/12 – Contractor working unsafely
• 31/10/12 – Works (planing of) a fire door – likelihood of exposure very low, precautionary report
• 19/04/13 – Screws fell out of skylight whilst being opened
• 13/12/13 – Items containing asbestos found in school grounds
• 30/08/13 – Discovered damaged AIB [asbestos insulating board] in store cupboard
The information followed a Freedom of Information request from Lucie Stephens, whose mother Sue, a teacher in Buckinghamshire, died of mesothelioma in June.
Bob Groome, Norfolk branch and district secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “This just goes to prove schools are not like other places. They say if asbestos is untouched or undisturbed, it’s safe. But we are talking about schools and kids, and they are not the most health and safety conscious. They will kick a ball against a wall or the ceiling.”
A council spokesman said it could not be certain if anyone had been exposed, but “the likelihood in the majority of cases is extremely low”.
Asked if the incidents showed there was a need to remove all asbestos from all schools, she said: “No. The majority of these incidents were recorded as a precautionary measure, not because we believe a significant release occurred. Where asbestos is in good condition and managed appropriately there is no risk. We have robust processes for asbestos management and we monitor how well schools manage the process.”