- 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980, and 205 of these deaths have occurred since 2001.1
- Teachers are now dying from mesothelioma at an average of 17 per year, up from 3 per year during 1980-85.2
- There is simply no evidence to prove that it is safer to manage asbestos than to remove it. Removal has to take place under strictly controlled conditions and is highly regulated. Suggesting that removal might be unsafe is misleading and scaremongering.
- Schools are different to other workplaces as children are more at risk. This is because they have longer lives ahead of them in which to develop asbestos-related disease. The greater risk to children was confirmed by the Department of Health’s Committee on Carcinogenicity in June 2013.3
- Some 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos, and, as everyone attends school during their childhood, the numbers facing potential exposure are huge. We do not know exactly how many adults have died because of childhood exposure to asbestos, but Professor Julian Peto, a leading epidemiologist, has estimated that between 200 and 300 people die each year of mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos when they were a pupil at school.4
- An NUT survey carried out in March 2015 found that 44 per cent of respondents had not even been told whether their school is one of the 86 per cent which do contain asbestos.
- Inspections carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over the last few years found flaws in asbestos management in a number of schools that have led to enforcement action. Relatively few schools have been inspected – what about the rest?
- Asbestos management can be expensive and time-consuming and requires a sustained commitment, even when changes to personnel take place, or when schools convert to academy status. The alternative – removal – means the problem is dealt with once and for all.
- Head teachers, bursars and other managers are unlikely to have sufficient time to manage asbestos effectively as it would take them away from their core responsibilities. They would also need training which most do not receive.
- Much of the asbestos in schools was installed during the 1940s – 1970s, and is in a deteriorating state. When asbestos is in poor condition, fibres are more likely to be released. Therefore, phased removal, with priority given to the most dangerous materials, is the practical solution and is the only way to ensure that schools are safe.
- The findings of the Government’s review5 of its asbestos in schools policy, published on 12th March 2015, were a step in the right direction with a new focus on training for staff and accountability of duty holders. What is lacking, however is a long term strategy for the gradual eradication of asbestos from schools.
- £300,000 was spent removing asbestos from royal households in 2014-15, and a further £150 million has been earmarked for royal refurbishment works, which includes asbestos removal.6 Likewise, restoration works to the Houses of Parliament are scheduled to cost between £3.5bn and £5.7bn, a cost which again includes the removal of asbestos.7 If asbestos removal is good enough for royal households and politicians – why should pupils and teachers receive anything less than this?
- All teachers should be aware if their school contains asbestos, and specifically where it is located, to avoid unintentionally disturbing it. If there is no asbestos survey available, teachers should ensure that this information is provided to them by the dutyholder/headteacher.
1 Male and female mesothelioma deaths and PMRs aged 16-74 for selected occupations in the health and education sectors in Great Britain in 2013 and PMRs for 2003-2014. Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 201607236 August 2016
2 HSE Mesothelioma occupational statistics: Male and female deaths ages 16-74 1980-2000 Table 3, 4 Southampton Occupation Group. 5 year time period 1980-2000 excluding 1981.
3 Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) (1 July 2013), ‘Statement on the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos compared to adults’ [online]. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/relative-vulnerability-of-children-to-asbestos-compared-to-adults
4 Education Select Committee hearing on asbestos in schools – 13 March 2013 Q13.
5 The Management of Asbestos in Schools: A Review of Department for Education Policy, March 2005 available www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/pdfnewslinks/the%20management%20of%20asbestos%20in%20schools.pdf