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Asbestos legacy in UK schools - a danger in plain sight

Asbestos, and its removal, is still a major issue in many public buildings across the UK. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have estimated that asbestos may still be present in 300,000 non-domestic buildings in the UK. The process of removing the material safely is a complex and hazardous task that causes major disruption. No group has seen more disruption to their day-to-day lives than schoolchildren and their teachers.

A number of schools have seen severe disruption to teaching recently as a result of the discovery of asbestos on their campuses.

A school in Edinburgh has been unable to serve their students with hot food for over 6 months after asbestos was found in the kitchens. Some reports have surfaced that children have refused to eat school lunches altogether.

One school in Suffolk had to resort to a return of online teaching after asbestos was found in one of the school’s blocks.

Another school in Suffolk has had to close entirely due to the material being widespread throughout the campus. With a further school in South Essex having following suit recently. 

Having had such disruption from the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns, at such a vital time of schoolchildren’s development, it is unacceptable that there is further interference from such a dangerous substance. The Government’s refusal to commit to remove asbestos from public buildings within 40 years is also appalling.

There have been calls for an asbestos register for schools across the UK to map and monitor the presence of asbestos. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE), working with the Department for Education (DfE) have published guidance on managing asbestos in schools, but as can be seen by the number of recent school closures - more needs to be done to by authorities to remove the threat.

As a personal injury lawyer representing clients in both Scotland and England, I have seen first-hand the devastation asbestos exposure has had on former teachers and students of schools throughout the UK. The Work and Pensions Committee has also warned that the risks of exposure in schools is likely to escalate - meaning the danger is far from over.

More needs to be done by the Government, HSE and local councils to ensure that children, teachers and support staff are protected from the dangers of asbestos dust. I am therefore calling upon Government to have a clear and settled strategy to take steps now to remove all asbestos from schools in the United Kingdom. That is the least that teachers, parents, children and society as a whole have a right to expect.