Asbestos Experts Worried Problems Could Be ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’
Fresh concerns raised by the Welsh education minister about the management of asbestos in the country’s schools need to be clarified immediately and must also be the catalyst for a full investigation into standards at all schools across the UK, according to asbestos-related illness experts.
In a written statement to the Welsh Assembly, Leighton Andrews has revealed he does not feel sufficiently assured that local authorities in the country are discharging their statutory duties to manage asbestos.
He requested councils to provide information following the problems seen at Cwmcarn High School, which was closed last month after a report revealed the presence of high levels of asbestos in the main building. A recent review recommended the site’s demolition.
Mr Andrews said that his next step would be to ensure head teachers and governing bodies understand their legal obligations and are following guidance on the management of asbestos.
Now, Irwin Mitchell’s team of asbestos-related disease lawyers are calling on the minister to work quickly to provide more information regarding his concerns and the failings identified, with a view to ensuring that efforts can be undertaken to ensure pupils and teachers at schools across Wales are safe from harm.
The problem of asbestos in schools is a national issue, not limited to Wales and the team have long campaigned to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos after representing victims who have suffered serious illness following exposure to the deadly material, as well as the families of those who have passed away after coming into contact with the fibres.
Alida Coates, an asbestos specialist at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Following the shocking revelations in Cwmcarn, it was hugely welcome to see the Welsh Assembly take steps to further investigate asbestos in other schools across Wales.
“However, it is clear that the Education Minister needs to clarify the concerns which the initial findings of that work have revealed and ensure that steps are taken as soon as possible to ensure that all authorities across the country are fully aware of their obligations and are able to enforce them immediately.
“Despite being associated with industrial environments, asbestos has been present in public buildings such as schools for decades. We have sadly seen a number of cases emerge among former school workers as well as people who believe they were exposed to the material as pupils.
“The issue of asbestos in schools needs to be dealt with now before more lives are lost as a result of a failure to manage asbestos in schools and other public buildings.”
Alida added that the work being undertaken in Wales must feed into a wider look at standards of asbestos management in schools across the rest of the UK.
She explained: “We remain worried that despite all of this activity around the issue in Wales, no reaction has yet been seen from Westminster in terms of whether similar reviews of asbestos management will be undertaken in schools across England, this is despite the publication last year of an All Party Parliamentary Report about Asbestos in Schools making six similar recommendations.
“There is clearly a concern that the issues identified in Wales are only the tip of the iceberg, so it is vital that efforts are undertaken to provide reassurances that appropriate standards are in place and are being followed to the letter.
“The importance of this issue simply cannot be understated and we are eagerly awaiting some sign of action on it as soon as possible.”