- Asbestos remains a killer in schools and there is simply no evidence to support the Government’s case that it is safer to manage asbestos than to remove it. Removal must take place under strictly controlled conditions and is highly regulated. It is misleading and scaremongering to suggest that removal might be unsafe.
- At least 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980, and 205 of these deaths have occurred since 2001.1 The real numbers are likely to be much higher because these figures do not include anyone over the age of 75.
- Teachers are now dying from mesothelioma at an average of 17 per year, up from three per year during 1980-85.2
- Sue Stephens, a former primary school teacher, died from mesothelioma in 2016. The coroner reporting on Sue’s death concluded that it is most likely she was exposed to asbestos during her time in schools.3
- 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.
- Some 86% of schools contain asbestos, and, as all children attend school, 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.
- Schools are different to other workplaces as children are more at risk from asbestos exposure. This is because they have longer lives ahead 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 2013.4 A child exposed at age five is five times more likely to develop mesothelioma than someone exposed at age 30.
- Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted to all local authorities in England and Wales have revealed that, in the last decade, over £10 million has been paid in compensation to former pupils and members of staff exposed to asbestos in schools.5
- An NUT survey carried out in March 2017 found that nearly 50% of respondents had not even been told whether their school is one of the 86% which do contain asbestos. Of the 46% who had been told that their school contains asbestos, half had not been told where it was located, so they were not able to take steps to avoid disturbing it.6
- 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. Since relatively few schools have been inspected, this begs the question, 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.
- In 2016, the DfE surveyed all head teachers about asbestos management in their school. Unfortunately, as the survey was not compulsory, only 25% of schools responded. Of those that did, nearly 30% needed to improve their asbestos management and 19% were not compliant with the Control of Asbestos Regulations. This included 2% of schools which gave serious cause for concern.7
- In March 2017, it was reported to the Public Accounts Committee that pupils at a school in Sunderland had to be ‘hosed down’ on more than one occasion because asbestos fibres were released from ceiling tiles.8
- The findings of the Government’s review 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.9 What was 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.10 Likewise, restoration works to the Houses of Parliament are scheduled to cost between £3.5bn and £5.7bn, a sum which includes asbestos removal.11 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.
4 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
6 NUT asbestos survey, carried out in March 2017, available at https://www.teachers.org.uk/help-and-advice/health-and-safety/a/asbestos-survey-report-2017
7 Asbestos Management in schools – Data Collection Report, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/594042/Asbestos_management_in_schools_data_collection_report.pdf
9 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