The serious threat to the health of pupils and teachers from exposure to asbestos has once again hit national headlines, with the results of an online survey conducted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) showing worrying results.
Nearly 50 per cent of respondents have not been told whether their school contains asbestos despite the substance being present in 86 per cent of schools. Even more concerning is that of the 46 per cent who know that asbestos is present, half do not know where it is located, meaning they’re unable to avoid disturbing it.
Schools are different to other workplaces as children are more at risk from asbestos exposure – the active environments of classrooms mean that any asbestos is more likely to be damaged or disturbed. Additionally, a child exposed at age five is five times more likely to develop mesothelioma than someone exposed at age 30.
Although the use of asbestos was banned in 1999, many of the existing school buildings were constructed in the 60s and 70s. More than £10 million has been paid out in compensation in the past five years to teachers and pupils who have suffered exposure.
Phil Franks, director at Franks Portlock, commented: “These survey findings have highlighted that a long-term Government strategy is needed to tackle the problem of asbestos in schools. Staff need to know that they are working in a safe environment and parents reassured that their children are being protected.
“The statistics are very concerning and it’s clear that more steps need to be taken to make sure that school buildings are free of ACMs (asbestos containing materials).
“Good asbestos management is vital to ensure the safety of teachers, pupils and anyone else that is likely to be exposed in school buildings. And while the responsibility shouldn’t be devolved to employees who aren’t equipped to manage it, it is important that staff who may be in contact with the material have asbestos awareness training as a minimum.
“In all cases, an experienced asbestos consultancy should be involved to oversee any remediation or removal processes. This will make sure that all ACMs are recorded and dealt with appropriately, hugely reducing the risk of exposure while instilling confidence in staff and parents that the problem has been dealt with and any health risks have been mitigated.”