Failing to educate schools about asbestos puts pupils and teachers at risk
I recently read a worrying story about a school in Essex that was fined for the way it had converted an old boiler room into a cleaner's room.
The Boswells School in Chelmsford was fined £46,000 (fine plus legal costs) for failing to ensure that asbestos residue removed from the walls of the old boiler room was performed safely.
The Health and Safety Executive also discovered asbestos in other parts of the school where caretakers and contractors had disturbed the fabric of the building and could potentially have been exposed.
The HSE found that the school had failed to identify the location of asbestos and its condition and had failed to warn anyone likely to disturb it in the course of their work. The Boswells Academy Trust pleaded guilty to breaching two health and safety regulations.
This prosecution highlights the continuing threat of exposure to asbestos to staff and pupils in schools up and down the country. Asbestos still exists in hundreds of schools but the cost of removing means it is often simply contained.
At Fieldfisher, an increasing number of teachers, staff and former pupils are contacting us because they've been exposed to asbestos in a school and, sadly, have later been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos-related cancer.
Mesothelioma alone accounts for more than 2,500 deaths each year. Other asbestos-related conditions including lung cancer cause many more. One fibre of asbestos can cause mesothelioma and there is no safe level of exposure. Yet, as highlighted by the Boswells case, schools all around the country still contain asbestos and are not having it removed, putting many innocent people's lives at risk.
Many campaigners have tried to introduce the immediate removal of asbestos from all schools to reduce the number of deaths among teachers and pupils in the years to come. One such campaigner, Michael Lees MBE, recently retired, but his great work has allowed others to continue the fight to remove asbestos from schools.
My son starts school this year and, obviously, I'm concerned about his safety. In my work, I see first-hand the devastation that follows a terminal diagnosis of mesothelioma and how rapidly it kills someone. I have also seen the impact of the disease on the whole family.
Mesothelioma sufferers often find it extremely difficult to accept the diagnosis, particularly if they have never worked directly with asbestos and, in some cases, were not even aware of the material having never worked in a job commonly associated with its use. This is generally true when teachers and other people working in schools discover they have contracted this devastating disease.
More needs to be done to rid schools of asbestos. While it remains within the fabric of school buildings, it needs to be more carefully identified and then completely removed, safely.
I truly believe that a fine of £46,000 is not a big enough penalty. A stronger message needs to be sent out when these incidents are reported and where the courts find that there have been breaches of the Health and Safety Regulations. Such a relatively small fine is not a deterrent.
This is not the first prosecution of its kind and, tragically, it will not be the last. I only hope that in years to come no-one present at the Boswells school contracts an asbestos related condition caused by the Trust's failings highlighted in this recent prosecution.
By Dushal Mehta, Senior Associate
Dushal Mehta is a Senior Associate in the Personal Injury and Industrial Disease department. He acts exclusively for victims of accidents and asbestos diseases. His experience and expertise are in the following areas:
- Mesothelioma and asbestos claims
- Work accident claims
- Road traffic accident claims
- Professional Negligence claims
In 2015, Dushal recovered over £3.5 million in damages for his clients. He regularly settles mesothelioma claims within months of being instructed and his successful trial case of Godbert v Ministry of Defence still remains the leading authority in asbestosis cases.
For more information or if you have a mesothelioma case, please contact Dushal Mehta on
- T: 020 7861 4033, or
- E: Dushal.Mehta@fieldfisher.com