School staff being left in dark about presence of asbestos in their workplace – leaving them and their pupils at risk of exposure

Posted: 25th Oct 17 9:19 AM

A survey taken online by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has shown that nearly 50% of all respondents had not been told whether their school contained asbestos, despite it being known that the deadly substance is present in 86% of schools.

Asbestos, a deadly substance used in building materials and construction for decades before it was banned in the UK, is known to cause several illnesses, such as mesothelioma –  a cancer of the lining of the lungs linked exclusively to asbestos exposure – pleural thickening and asbestosis.

Of the 46% told that their school contained asbestos, half did not know where it was located, leaving them unable to take the correct steps to avoid disturbing it.

It was found earlier this year that staff and pupils across the country have been exposed to asbestos more than 90 times in the past 5 years – as recorded by local councils.

More than £10 million in compensation has been paid out over the same time frame to teachers and pupils who have suffered with illness due to asbestos exposure. Almost 250 staff and former pupils have made claims with just under half of their cases winning. All had developed mesothelioma as a result of their exposure.

Children at risk

Children have been found to be at particular risk of developing an asbestos-related disease because of the long latency periods between exposure and the first signs of symptoms, and the boisterous behaviour of young people in schools increasing the potential danger of asbestos as they are more likely to disturb it.

Respondents to the survey had reported incidents such as children punching holes in walls, for example, or picking at plaster which covered areas where asbestos was located.

Lack of Government strategy

From the survey, nearly all respondents (96%) agreed that there should be a long-term Government strategy for the phased removal of all asbestos in schools by 2028.

Kevin Courtney, the general strategy of the NUT, said that the survey had uncovered “an appalling state of affairs in our schools.

“It certainly serves to strengthen our case for the Government to commit to a long-term strategy for the phased removal of asbestos from all our schools,” he said.

“Parents need to be reassured that asbestos is being safely managed in their child’s school, something that we clearly cannot be confident in at the moment.”

Senior factory worker cleaning hands

The current national policy for managing asbestos in schools is for the material to be left in situ unless it becomes a problem. Even the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that asbestos is “here, its endemic, it’s under control and if we monitor it it’s the safest policy.”

Removing all asbestos could cost billions of pounds, but many people believe a more rigorous approach should be taken to remove it, especially from our school buildings.

The NUT rightfully say that lives are at risk, and are calling for urgent action from the Government to change the national policy and strategy.

According to the NUT, 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980. It is estimated that for every teacher’s death, nine children will die from asbestos-related disease later in life, meaning that 100 people will die every year because of exposure when they were at school.

Further reading

Asbestos in schools is a ‘serious’ problem, Government report finds

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

Will mesothelioma deaths really peak next year?

Who is at risk of developing mesothelioma and is the lung cancer moving on to a different type of victim?