Asbestos in Schools

17 June 2015

Commenting ahead of this morning’s debate on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“It is time for Government to tackle the scourge of asbestos in schools.

“The continuing presence of asbestos in around 86% of schools is a scandal. Britain has the highest mesothelioma rate in the world (1) and the numbers of teachers dying from the disease are increasing, including 22 in 2012 alone.

“Successive governments have failed to address the legacy of asbestos in schools, leading to unnecessary deaths of staff and former pupils. Children are more at risk than adults from exposure to asbestos fibres, due to the long latency period for mesothelioma. It is estimated that around 200 – 300 adults are dying every year as a consequence of exposure to asbestos when they were at school.

“The review of asbestos in schools policy by the previous Government was a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.  There is still no recognition that asbestos is a serious problem for schools.  Shamefully, the Government’s most recent survey of school buildings deliberately excluded asbestos.

“The new Conservative Government has yet to confirm whether the crucial Asbestos in Schools Steering Group, which brings together DfE officials, the HSE, and union and employer representatives, will continue its valuable work.

“We call upon the new Government to announce real action without further delay so that we can continue to work together to keep our schools safe. We need a concerted effort on a national scale. Children, parents and staff deserve better than to be exposed to asbestos on a daily basis.”

Editor’s Note

17.8 deaths per million according to World Health Organization figures, Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2011; 89: 716-724C. doi: 10.2471/BLT.11.086678. The ten highest are UK (17.8), Australia (16.5), Italy (10.3), France (7.6), Germany (6.8), South Africa (6.7), Netherlands (6.4), USA (3.5), Spain (3.9) and Japan (3.2).

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