It may sound like a health and safety myth, but reports that schools have been banned from displaying First World War helmets and gas masks in class have turned out to be completely true.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has confirmed that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued guidance in November last year.
The problem centres on the design of early Twentieth Century military gear which routinely incorporates asbestos into their design. According to research conducted by the Imperial War Museum (IWM), the majority of gas marks of the period contain crocidolite, a particularly dangerous blue form of asbestos.
The IWM also found that the majority of ‘Brodie’ helmets issued to serving soldiers in the First World War contain a form of asbestos called ‘chysolite’ in the liner. The HSE is concerned that after 100 years, many of these artefacts have been poorly maintained, increasing the risk of harmful exposure to staff and students alike.
General principles for dealing with asbestos
Because of the dangers inherent in the mineral, disposal of asbestos should only be undertaken by qualified professionals. However the HSE advice about dealing with asbestos prior to permanent removal applies to any industry.
Items containing asbestos should be double-bagged in refuse sacks and taped securely shut. The bags must then be clearly labelled as hazardous and stored safely until proper disposal can be arranged.
The key to management of risk is to minimise the risk of asbestos particulates being released into the air, and thereby the potential for inhalation. Employees are advised to avoid disturbing dust or touching materials thought to be contaminated with asbestos.
Whether as part of a good building management plan, or in order to make renovation and building work safe, employers need to carry out an asbestos site audit. This will then help identify the presence of asbestos, the stability of the material and provide the basis for a plan that will help minimise the risk it presents to employees and the public.
Some good news
The IWM and HSE have advised schools that the linings of most Brodie helmets can be removed and disposed of, leaving the protective metal shell. They have however stressed that removal and disposal of the liner should be performed only by a qualified asbestos contractor. The HSE also advises that helmets which have been made safe should be clearly labelled as such before being used for classroom demonstrations.
Far from being just another sensationalist headline, or “health and safety gone mad” type myth, the HSE directive deals with a credible threat to welfare. The volatile nature of asbestos means that the HSE advice will help protect the health of teachers and students alike.
For further help and advice about dealing with asbestos, or assessing the risk presented to your staff, give the Veritas Consulting team a call today on 0800 1488 677.