Committee Hearing On Asbestos In Schools ‘A Vital Starting Point’

Westminster Removal Programme ‘Should Lead To Action On All Public Buildings’

12.03.2013

By Rob Dixon

Legal experts representing former staff and pupils exposed to asbestos in schools are demanding that this week’s Education Select Committee inquiry on the presence of the deadly material in school buildings leads to action on the issue once and for all.

A one-off public hearing related to oral evidence on the problem of asbestos in schools is to be held on Wednesday 13th March, with witnesses including Michael Lees of the Asbestos in Schools Group and Julie Winn, chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee, discussing the key issues.

The issue of asbestos in schools has been brought into the spotlight following high-profile HSE prosecutions related to the management of the material in recent months, as well as the case of Cwmcarn High School in Wales. Pupils were moved from the site last year after a report raised serious concerns over the levels of asbestos in one of the school’s buildings.

A recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health also estimated that asbestos is present in more than 75 per cent of the country’s schools and described the issue as a “national scandal”.

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist asbestos lawyers have campaigned for a number of years for action to be taken to address this issue and have revealed their hopes that this week’s hearing will lead MPs to:

  • Introduce a full register of all asbestos in public buildings – starting with schools
  • Carry out regular inspections to ensure the new register is kept up to date
  • Work urgently to safely remove any damaged asbestos flagged in public buildings
  • Staff and parents of pupils attending schools affected by asbestos to receive regular updates to raise awareness of the dangers
  • Reissue strict guidance on the management of the deadly material to prevent future exposure

Adrian Budgen, national head of asbestos litigation at the law firm, said: “The Government is well aware of the dangers of asbestos, having itself ordered a full programme for the removal of the material from the Palace of Westminster.

“Surely if such action is considered for Parliament, it should also be considered for all other public buildings – particularly schools where our children, who medical experts state are particularly vulnerable to exposure, spend most of their days.

“While, asbestos is often viewed as a thing of the past which purely affects those working in sectors of heavy industry, we are increasingly being contacted for help by people who believe they have been exposed to the hazardous material in schools and other public buildings like hospitals.

“It has long been argued that proper management of asbestos in buildings would mean people are kept safe, but recent cases have raised concerns as to whether this is really enough to ensure that risks are fully minimised.

“This hearing is a prime opportunity for the Government to hear first-hand about the very real concerns which exist around asbestos in schools and hopefully will lead to honest, forthright discussion on what really needs to be done to prevent people from being exposed to this deadly material. The Asbestos in Schools Group is calling for a full inquiry, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

“The terrible legacy of asbestos has touched so many lives across the decades and, while many health and safety improvements have been seen, there is much more to be done to ensure that standards improve even further and minimise risks.

“We hope this hearing proves to be a vital starting point which will tackle the issue of asbestos in schools once and for all.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise related to Asbestos Compensation