On 9 May 2014, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued further advice on the use of Second World War gas masks and helmets in schools. The HSE analysed a range of makes and models of gas masks and helmets and confirmed that none of these should be worn or handled by children or teachers.
The HSE’s analysis revealed that the majority of vintage masks contained asbestos and often this was the more dangerous crocidolite, or blue asbestos. It found that only a minority did not contain any asbestos, but it is not possible to say which types or models do or do not contain it. Furthermore, it is very difficult to decide whether or not a mask contains asbestos from a simple visual examination and it is likely that some masks will be in very poor condition. The Imperial War Museums (IWM) advise that their policy is to assume any mask, whatever the vintage, contains asbestos as well as other potentially toxic or otherwise hazardous materials and so should not be worn and in fact, only handled if clearly certified as safe to do so.
There is now an immediate need to implement and enforce this advice throughout schools in Britain. If you are concerned about the use of gas masks and helmets at your children’s school, or in your employment, you can raise your concerns with the school or workplace and contact the HSE.
Further information can be found on the HSE’s website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos and http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/pdfnewslinks/Gas%20Masks%20-%20Letter%20with%20Advice.pdf.