Asbestos in schools

December 04, 2018

Recent figures show cases of Mesothelioma and other asbestos related fatal diseases continue to rise, with teachers now classed as the profession the sixth most at risk. 

Building Ceiling Classroom 373488

A recent Freedom of Information Request (FOIR) by the Asbestos in Schools Campaign Group suggests that 86% of our schools across the UK and Ireland contain asbestos.  The figure is based on the responses of 177 local authorities.

Increasing death rate

The number of teachers dying from mesothelioma has been steadily increasing.  Health and Safety Executive statistics have recorded 182 teachers and university lecturers died of mesothelioma between 1980 and 2000 (not including those whose occupation had changed from teaching at time of their death).

The increase in deaths amongst females in primary and secondary education has been fourfold since 1980.  Male primary and secondary teacher deaths have more than doubled and deaths amongst males in higher education have increased fourfold.  A female primary school teacher is twice as likely as a nurse to die of asbestos related mesothelioma.

These figures do not include those teachers and assistants that die from other cancers that are also attributable to asbestos exposure.  The recorded figure is regarded by many campaigners as unreliable e.g. deaths over the age of 74 are not included as are those with no easily defined occupational coding.  Given we know that the period between inhaling a particle of asbestos fibre and the diagnosis of an asbestos related illness can be a great many years, the missing data may lead to very worrying conclusions.

How is it being managed?

Figures released 6th April 2018 by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee reveal huge disparities in asbestos management across Multi Academy Trusts (MATs),  identifying  1,863 academies with asbestos present and 54 reporting an asbestos exposure incident including:

  • Asbestos identified under the carpet in a classroom;
  • Asbestos identified in the ceiling of an IT suite;
  • Removal of toilets in a children’s centre, which disturbed suspected asbestos; and
  • Asbestos found when digging out a new carpark.

Only 5 MATS reported that they had been issued with an improvement or prohibition notice by the Health and Safety Executive in relation to asbestos management.

Where and why is asbestos commonly found?

At the time when many of our schools were built and extended, asbestos was used in all manner of building materials from bricks and mortar, roofing tiles, ceiling tiles, down pipes, guttering, window frames, doorways, pipe cladding and paints.  The list is non-exhaustive and it is alarming just how many products manufacturers of the day took advantage of the incredible insulating and protective chemical properties that asbestos provided.

The rate of repair and maintenance of our school buildings has not kept pace with the need for urgent repair and removal of asbestos.  Cuts to education services very often put building refurbishments to the back of every lengthening budgetary queue.

Not just schools and educational centres

Asbestos can also be found in buildings, offices, factories and any structures that were built in the post-war era, 1930 through to 1985, prior to the asbestos ban in 1999.

Exposure to asbestos can cause a number of diseases including lung cancer, mesothelioma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Get in touch

For information as to how we may be able to help if you think you have been exposed to asbestos in the work place please contact one of our specialist personal injury lawyers at Metcalfes.




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