Louise Larkin, asbestos expert at Thompsons Solicitors, discusses the risk of asbestos in schools and your rights if you think you’ve been exposed to the deadly substance.
More than 20 years ago, a blanket ban on the use or importation of asbestos was imposed across the UK. It was hoped this would be the end of a horrendous legacy of asbestos that has devastated families and communities for decades.
Sadly, that is not the case and we continue to see thousands of people dying from asbestos-related diseases every year. While a large number of these are, unsurprisingly, related to those who worked in manufacturing or heavy industry, we have seen first-hand the impact that asbestos use in schools has had on the public.
How common is asbestos use in schools?
Many UK schools constructed between 1945 and 2000 - especially before 1975 - will contain some form of asbestos. This may include thermal lagging on pipes and boilers, ceiling tiles, guttering and insulation boards. There were several types of asbestos, notable by their colour, such as white (chrysotile), brown (amosite) and blue (crocidolite). While certain types are more dangerous than others, they all pose a significant threat to those who come into contact with them.
The most common way that asbestos creates a risk in schools is when it is disturbed or damaged through maintenance, repair or inadvertently by pupils, which can cause the substance to become airborne and breathed in by teachers, pupils or other people on the premises. If the asbestos is in good condition and is left undisturbed, it’s far less likely to be a risk to those in the vicinity, which is why it is vital that schools and local authorities properly manage any asbestos on the premises.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case, which was evident last year when nearly 700 schools across England were referred to the national health and safety body over concerns that they are failing to safely manage asbestos in their buildings, meaning that potentially thousands of staff and pupils have been - and possibly remain - at risk.
What needs to be done to limit the risk of asbestos in schools?
The statistics speak for themselves. Schools must have local plans to control asbestos safely wherever it is present, to ensure that any asbestos is identified and managed - its condition noted and monitored and properly managed.
Individual members who are concerned that they may have been exposed should talk to their Workplace Representative or their Local Association Secretary to make sure they know of the problem and can help to ensure the school takes it seriously.
Regulations and legislation don’t save people’s lives and cutting corners or turning a blind eye is no longer an option. Though it will sadly still be a long time before we can say that the impact of asbestos is something of the past, it is possible to control asbestos exposure so that we see the long-promised drop in asbestos deaths as the decade progresses. For as long as it is around, Thompsons Solicitors will continue to campaign for the rights of the families and communities who have been devastated because of avoidable exposure.
For more information on how the NASUWT and Thompsons Solicitors can help you, call 0808 100 2221 or visit the NASUWT portal on Thompsons website.
The views and opinions in this article are those of Thompsons Solicitors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the NASUWT.