Three-quarters of schools have asbestos in their buildings and councils in England have paid out £10 million in compensation to those who have suffered disease following exposure to the deadly substance. Furthermore, the National Union of Teachers says up to 300 adults die each year because of exposure to asbestos while at school.
How has this been allowed to happen? And what is being done to protect vulnerable children and adults from becoming victims of asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, which is incurable and leads to death.
Why is asbestos in school buildings?
Following the Second Word War, asbestos became ubiquitous in building materials, not only in the UK but across the world. Almost all the 14,000 schools built between 1945 and 1975 contain asbestos as do most of the school buildings refurbished during that period. A report entitled Asbestos in Schools – A Need for Action, by the all-party parliamentary group on occupational health and safety stated that although some of the material is enclosed and therefore relatively safe, materials such as asbestos lagging, sprayed asbestos and asbestos insulating board, all of which can release dangerous fibres, can be found in some school buildings.
The government’s policy on asbestos in schools
According to the Asbestos in Schools – A Need for Action report, the government’s policy is that as long as the asbestos is safe from disturbance it is better to manage it throughout the time the building is usable rather than attempt to remove it. This approach may be linked to the fact that asbestos removal is an expensive process and there is a critical lack of funding when it comes to getting the lethal substance out of our schools.
Worryingly, the report found that many schools and local authorities do not have an effective asbestos management policy. It states:
Common faults [with asbestos management] include a lack of asbestos awareness and poor standards of training; asbestos management plans have been found to be ineffective; there has been confusion over areas of responsibility; and the less accessible asbestos has frequently not been identified because of inadequate surveys. A report by the Asbestos Consultants Association concluded that the systems of asbestos management in many schools are ineffective and at times dangerous. They stated: “These are not minor problems that have crept in over recent years; rather they are fundamental problems that are endemic in schools in the UK.”
Although the practice of ‘managing asbestos’ for the life of the building is used in many other sectors, such as offices and factories, campaigners argue that children, through normal play and carelessness can easily damage buildings, disturbing asbestos and sending dangerous fibres into the air.
Recommendations from the Asbestos in Schools – A Need for Action report
The Asbestos in Schools – A Need for Action report highlights that there is a serious need for head teachers, bursars and school managers to receive adequate training in the management of asbestos. Staff and pupils must also be made aware of the asbestos to avoid disturbing it.
The report also recommended that there be a policy of phased removal of asbestos introduced, otherwise, asbestos will remain a problem in schools indefinitely, which will continue to drain resources and there will be the ever present potential for the asbestos to be disturbed and fibres released.
Could you be entitled to make a compensation claim for exposure to asbestos in a school environment?
Asbestos is a killer and it is of serious concern that children and teachers are continually being exposed to its dangers every day in some schools. Given that asbestos-related diseases can take around 40 years to develop, we may be decades off seeing the true human cost of successive government policy of effectively turning a blind eye to the problem.
At IBB, our industrial diseases team, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for asbestos related disease. We can also promote representation at a Coroner’s Inquest. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.