Asbestos blamed for 150 deaths of school and hospital workers in England | Fieldfisher
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Asbestos blamed for 150 deaths of school and hospital workers in England

In a campaign close to the hearts of the industrial disease team, data from the Office of National Statistics recording deaths among health and education workers have reignited concerns about the amount of asbestos still present in dilapidated schools and hospitals around the country.

The data show that around 150 such employees were recorded as dying from asbestos related cancer since 2017, with the actual figure likely to be much higher because of the way a person's profession in reported on their death certificate. These figures coincide with growing complaints from unions and head teachers over the state of hospital and school buildings, with budgets for repairs to both relentlessly squeezed since 2010.

This stark truth is illustrated by our past and ongoing mesothelioma cases involving teachers and healthcare workers exposed to even small amounts of lethal asbestos going about their everyday professional lives in rundown buildings.

Three such cases involved medical and dental students training at the big London teaching hospitals during the 1960s and 70s who some 30 years later realised the dusty corridors they walked through for years under the hospitals were laden with asbestos dust from faulty pipe lagging.

Similarly, our dear client Ann Syz, a child psychotherapist, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2012 having used the underground corridors of the Hospital for Sick Children in the 1980s, also full of asbestos from deteriorating pipework.

Our client John Bennett, whose wife Kathleen died from mesothelioma contracted in a school in Merton, eloquently expressed his fear that others would suffer the same fate if more wasn't done to rebuild old schools like St Thomas of Canterbury where Kathleen worked.

Looking forward, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) last year launched a programme of inspections into how schools are managing the risks from asbestos, and scientists are working to study the ongoing impact of asbestos in old buildings on female teachers in particular and students. This follows what may be a statistically important rate of mesothelioma deaths detected among teachers born between 1955 and 1974, to be further analysed by unions and academics.

Meanwhile, the National Education Union has called for a major programme of investment in school buildings, following a decline in spending of 50 per cent in real terms since 2010. The absence of a national register of asbestos in public buildings has also been raised as obscuring the true picture of the problem.

The campaign is now focussed on demanding additional government funding for more safety inspections and speeding up the asbestos removal programme.

Brutally, this may seem like 'too little too late' for our clients who have died following asbestos exposure in old buildings, but their families may take some small comfort that their legacies will at least protect their future colleagues.

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