The Star Exposes Asbestos
In the early days of my first Headship (Lydgate Juniors is my third) a well-meaning parent came to see me to alert me to a potential health and safety concern. She worked as a freelance gardening service and so was sharing professional knowledge when she told me that we had poisonous plants growing on site. ‘Was I aware of this?’ she asked.
At the risk of sounding smug, I told her I was, and that I was not concerned. We discussed the way school dealt with any risks involved in having Foxgloves growing wild (and wildly attractively) in a few flower beds. Foxgloves provide digitalis, and were the original source of this drug, used to treat certain heart conditions. It is potentially fatal, even in small doses.
How could I accept this on the school site? How could I rationalise away the risk to health?
I explained that we had many potentially harmful plants growing on-site, but all being acceptably managed. We were encouraging classes to grow fruits and vegetables in raised beds. There were tomatoes (poisonous leaves), potatoes (green skins can cause sickness), rhubarb (toxic leaves) and asparagus (posh, but the bright red berries are toxic).
We managed the risks and reduced them to an acceptable level by teaching the children not to eat the parts they shouldn’t and not to pick berries or fruit unless someone with expertise told them it was safe. And we kept on growing at the school and no children ever got poisoned.
This week the Sheffield Star has published a list of schools that have Asbestos on their premises, as listed in their respective Asbestos Reports. Lydgate Junior School is on that list. https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/revealed-the-schools-in-sheffield-containing-asbestos-and-the-plans-in-place-to-protect-pupils-1-9370131
If anyone had asked me directly I would have told them it was so, and it would not have needed a Freedom of Information request to find out. The design of our main building, erected in the 1970s used asbestos to provide insulation and fire protection, and the design is fairly common.
Asbestos is not good, of course, but its management is easy enough and good practice makes it safe to remain. Put simply, we do not disturb it. Anywhere where the substance may be is marked and recorded on our site report. Anyone who intends to knock even a nail in a wall is required to consult the site report and seek ’permission to work’. If there is a chance that even the minutest piece will be disturbed then the work is not allowed to proceed. As and when possible and sensible, asbestos-containing material is removed, and so the risk continually reduces over time.
Are the children and staff safe? Yes they are.
We ‘teach’ them not to touch or disturb, just like we teach the children not to eat things they shouldn’t, such as rhubarb leaves and unidentified seeds.
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