Quarter of schools in England failed to report asbestos

Posted: 23rd Jan 19 10:30 AM

Nearly a quarter of schools across England (23%) failed to tell the government that their buildings contained asbestos, and how risks are being managed, warn a committee of MPs.

Schools across England were asked to provide details outlining asbestos risks and their management by May 31, 2018.

However, the Public Accounts Committee have said it is “seriously concerned” with the Department for Education’s lack of information about asbestos in schools.

It has said schools that have not reported back with information should be “named and shamed”.

According to the National Education Union, at least 200 teachers have died since 2001 from mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer affecting the lining of the lungs.

Use of asbestos was finally banned in the United Kingdom in 1999, but was regularly used in construction and manufacturing across England and the rest of the UK, including in most schools built between 1950 and the 1980s.

Poor response rate to asbestos report

In March 2018, the Department for Education started to collect the data on how asbestos in England’s schools was being managed, and to check that academy trusts and local authorities were responding appropriately.

“The [Department for Education] asked schools to respond by 31 May 2018. Due to the poor response rate, it extended the deadline to 25 June 2018 and then extended it again to 27 July 2018,” the Public Accounts Committee report says.

“Despite this, only 77% of schools have responded and the [Department for Education] has extended this deadline yet again, to 15 February 2019, to allow the remaining 23% of schools to respond.”

The Public Accounts Committee added: “We are not convinced that extending the deadline again will result in a much higher response rate.”

The committee said the government needs to “understand fully the extent of asbestos in school buildings and how the risks are being managed” and should release the names of the schools that have not replied.

“In March 2019, the [Department for Education] should name and shame those schools which did not meet the February 2019 deadline and which have therefore repeatedly failed to respond to its asbestos-management survey,” the committee says.

Asbestos still present in 9 out of 10 schools

In 2015, figures were released suggesting that asbestos is still present in 9 out of 10 schools in the UK.

A freedom of information request was sent to councils throughout the UK, requesting information on the number of schools containing asbestos. The response showed that nearly 90% of schools in the UK still contained asbestos (87.2%), which was considerably higher than previous official estimates.

A new wave of asbestos sufferers

Asbestos is still found in many buildings constructed before 2000 and because some people are more susceptible to mesothelioma after inhaling just a few asbestos fibres, there is a new wave of suffers who develop the cancer after low levels of exposure. These victims are not the industrial and construction workers of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, but office, retail and classroom based professionals.

The highest profile of this new wave are teachers. Between 1980 and 1985, there were 15 mesothelioma deaths among school teachers – just three per year. In 2012 alone, there were 22. A growing number of legal cases now involve people who believe they – or relatives – were exposed to asbestos as pupils.

According to a similar report from the all-party parliamentary group on occupational health and safety, the issue is a “time-bomb in our schools”. Almost all the 14,000 schools built between 1945 and 1975 contain asbestos alongside any that were refurbished during that period.

While asbestos does not pose a serious risk if enclosed and well managed, that report says materials such as asbestos lagging, sprayed asbestos and asbestos insulating board can release dangerous fibres and are present in our schools. The all-party group quotes a report from the Medical Research Council, which estimates that even when a school building containing asbestos is kept in good condition, fibre levels are between 5 and 500 times than levels found outside.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, or has passed away with one, it is important to discuss your circumstances with a specialist asbestos lawyer. At the National Asbestos Helpline, we work closely with a team of expert solicitors to advise and assist you and your family through what can be a tough and confusing process. Our advice is free and confidential with no obligations. You can call us on 0800 043 6635, email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk, or fill in our contact form here for us to get back to you.

Further reading

Asbestos in schools a ‘serious’ problem, government report finds

Health Risk: Asbestos still present in 9 out of 10 schools in the UK

Asbestos in schools – does it pose a danger?

How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?

What are the warning signs of mesothelioma?

Is there a time limit on asbestos compensation claims?