Asbestos Scandal ‘Threatens School Pupils’ Health’ Investigation Warns

Experts Call For Schools To Be Top Priority For Identification And Removal Programme

30.03.2016

Kate Rawlings, Press Officer | 0114 274 4238

Expert lawyers from Irwin Mitchell have reissued calls for action over asbestos in public buildings after a damning report revealed the deadly substance in schools is a national health “scandal.”

The investigation revealed that decades of lax attitudes towards tackling asbestos in schools is threatening the health of former, current and future schoolchildren.

The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) said examples of the problem in schools underlined “systematic failings” in the way successive governments have dealt with asbestos.

The JUAC said Whitehall had a “scandalous disregard for life” by allowing inadequate surveys and campaigning against compulsory detection.

The report said that over the years governments have failed to require schools to keep asbestos records and inform parents about the material in their child’s school.

It said: “This has enabled the culprits to evade responsibility for asbestos exposure leading to mesothelioma, allowing them to escape with impunity.

“Nothing can be done to put right past asbestos exposure, but we must do more to protect future generations of school children and staff.”

Asbestos can be found in wall panels, ceiling tiles, floors, fire breaks, columns, door frames, and ceiling and wall voids and can creep into classrooms and corridors if it is disturbed.

The UK currently has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world and it is steadily increasing.

JUAC said government documents released under Freedom of Information rules suggested full and comprehensive new laws to reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos were dismissed by politicians on cost grounds.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of children and staff in our schools.”

Experts say the true scale of the problem is not known, because no comprehensive survey has been done to establish which buildings are affected.

The report identified one asbestos victim, Sarah Bowman, who developed an asbestos related disease in her 40s, more than three decades after leaving Braincroft Primary and William Gladstone schools in the Brent area of London.

She was said to have been too ill to attend the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton this weekend where the report was presented.

The report found the risk to children - including Ms Bowman's son, who attended one of the schools several years later - was underestimated because risk assessments and tests were designed for adults working with asbestos, and not for long-term exposure of children who are known to be more vulnerable.

Joanne Jefferies, a specialist asbestos lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, the law firm which represented Sarah Bowman, said: 

Expert Opinion
"The Brent report is worrying as it highlights long-term mismanagement of asbestos at the school and Sarah’s case is a stark reminder of the dangers of exposure to the deadly dust and the devastating effect it can have on people’s lives.

"Asbestos exposure has long been regarded as something that only happens in heavy industry, but the presence of the material in so many public buildings such as schools and hospitals means that more and more people who are not working in traditional construction trades are being affected.

"Having seen the devastation that asbestos exposure in schools and public buildings has caused our clients and their families, we have repeatedly called for a dedicated programme to identify public buildings across the country containing asbestos, and a schedule to systematically remove it on a priority basis depending on its state of disrepair in each situation.

"Given the vulnerability of children to the potential dangers of asbestos – we would suggest schools are given the highest priority in any action that may be taken."
Joanne Jefferies, Associate

If you or a loved one has been affected by an asbestos related illness, our solicitors can help you to claim compensation. See our Asbestos Claims page for more information.