Calls For MPs To Back Asbestos In Schools Action Plan

Lawyers Representing Victims of Asbestos Call For Urgent Action To Tackle Growing Problem

25.02.2015

Expert lawyers representing thousands of families affected by asbestos-related diseases have urged the major political parties to commit to tackling the growing problem of asbestos in schools as part of their election promises.

In recent years law firm Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Asbestos-Related Disease team has seen a significant increase in cases related to exposure to the deadly dust in schools with diseases such as the terminal cancer mesothelioma affecting former pupils, teachers, cleaners, kitchen staff, handymen and caretakers across the UK.

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

However campaigners including the Asbestos In Schools group have become frustrated at delays to a review of the management of the material and a lack of action in dealing with the problem.

Figures obtained from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by the voluntary Asbestos In Schools campaign group show a total of 291 teachers have died from asbestos between 1980 and 2012 with 61% of these dying since 2001.

Now, as the Department for Education prepares to publish its findings from a review into how to manage asbestos in schools, Irwin Mitchell’s expert lawyers are calling for the major political parties to commit to taking action to address this issue.

The law firm has campaigned for years alongside victims of mesothelioma, and other diseases, to introduce measures to prevent asbestos in schools further impacting on the health of people who find themselves in close proximity to asbestos in the old buildings on a daily basis. The law firm is asking MPs to implement a system which would:

  • Introduce a full risk register of all asbestos in public buildings – starting with schools
  • Carry out regular inspections to ensure the risk register is kept up to date
  • Work urgently to safely remove any damaged asbestos flagged as high risk in schools
  • Notify staff and parents of pupils attending ‘dangerous’ schools affected by asbestos
  • Reissue strict guidance on the management of the deadly material to prevent future exposure.

While much of the asbestos will currently be intact and of no danger to staff and pupils, when asbestos is disturbed or deteriorates it becomes extremely unsafe and inhaling the dust and fibres can lead to serious illness problems decades later.

Expert Opinion
Most people associate asbestos-related disease with heavy industry but we have seen a significant increase in the number of people exposed to asbestos in public buildings in recent years, particularly in schools and universities.

"The figures show that the number of people affected by this type of exposure is increasing and we are concerned that asbestos is still present in 75 per cent of schools.

"Asbestos which is in a state of disrepair is dangerous so what is needed is a continuous system of auditing, monitoring and removal so that we can identify the asbestos that is at the highest risk of causing harm and take steps to safely remove it.

"MPs are well aware of the dangers of asbestos, having agreed a full programme for the removal of the material from the Palace of Westminster in recent years. 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.

"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."
Adrian Budgen, Partner