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On Action Mesothelioma Day, which takes place today (Friday), the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union is calling for the urgent prioritisation of removal of asbestos from school buildings in order to safeguard the health and welfare of education staff and pupils.

The last official figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) in 2019, showed that asbestos is present in four out of five schools (81%) in England. The Joint Unions Asbestos Committee (JUAC) estimate that 1,000 school staff in Great Britain have already died from mesothelioma between 1980-2017, and up to 9,000 former pupils may also have died from mesothelioma during the same period.

Last week the National Audit Office estimated that as many as 24,000 school buildings were beyond their initial design life, and of particular risk were 13,800 “system-built” blocks constructed between 1940 and 1980. Many of these contain asbestos.

The NASUWT is working with Sir Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, to call on political parties throughout the UK to adopt recommendations made by the Committee in April 2022 on asbestos management.

These include the introduction of a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings, focusing on removing the highest risk asbestos first, and the early removal from the highest risk settings, including schools. Under current Government plans to build just 50 new schools a year, it would take over 350 years to completely eradicate asbestos from all schools in England.

The NASUWT is also backing the Committee’s recommendation that a central digital register of all asbestos in non-domestic buildings, describing its location and type, is created to identify the extent of asbestos present in public buildings and to support the process of prioritising its removal.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said:

“It is a national tragedy that more and more school teachers are dying from Mesothelioma, the deadly asbestos lung cancer. Asbestos exposure continues to be the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

“Around 5,000 people are dying each year from asbestos cancers linked to work exposure, including from mesothelioma. The latest HSE data shows that the number of female teachers dying from mesothelioma is increasing. 

“Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and it is a national disgrace that the UK has one of the highest mesothelioma mortality rates in the world.

“The risks are now well known, yet as last week’s National Audit Office report shows, there is a lack of urgency from the DfE to address the problem. This is needlessly and avoidably passing on a potentially deadly legacy to the staff and children working and learning in our schools today.”

Sir Stephen Timms, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said:

“In 2009-10, under the last Labour Government, £7.5 billion was spent on building and refurbishing schools - the Department for Education's (DfEs) Capital Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL).

“The National Audit Office report shows that between 2016-17 and 2022-23 the DfE spent on average just £2.3 billion a year.

“The Government must significantly increase investment in building and refurbishing schools, not least to remove the deadly asbestos that is present in four out of five schools in England.

“Setting a 40 year deadline for removing all workplace asbestos and creating a central digital register of all asbestos in non-domestic buildings, are the first crucial steps in addressing the problem.  The Government should work towards removing the highest risk asbestos first, including from the crumbling schools estate.”


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