Fieldfisher supports Sunday Times campaign to remove asbestos from every UK school | Fieldfisher
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Fieldfisher supports Sunday Times campaign to remove asbestos from every UK school

The Industrial Disease team has long lobbied for better understanding of ongoing problems with asbestos in public buildings, highlighting that those affected by mesothelioma are increasingly discovering their exposure took place in schools and hospitals and that clients instructing us to pursue claims are often younger than previously.

The team therefore fully supports the campaign launched this month by the Sunday Times calling for the government to develop a national plan for the removal of all asbestos over the next 40 years to protect future generations from its dangers.

Asbestos remains the UK’s biggest work-related killer. It is estimated 10,000 teachers, pupils and staff who have died from asbestos exposure at schools in the past four decades, but there are still 21,500 schools currently operating that contain toxic material and many are in a dangerous condition.

The National Audit Office recently estimated that 24,000 school buildings were beyond their original design life, and particularly dangerous are the 13,800 'system-built' blocks constructed between 1940 and 1980. Many contain asbestos in ceilings, rooves, exterior and interior walls, flooring and in boilers and pipework.

Although in the UK asbestos was banned in new buildings from 1999, according to Airtight on Asbestos, around 6 million tonnes of asbestos could still be present in 1.5 million buildings.

There is no official figure for the number of schools containing asbestos, but freedom of information requests and surveys including by the Department for Education (DfE) appear to confirm at least 21,500 exist.

School hazard

A Department of Education survey of almost 20,000 UK primary and secondary schools found asbestos was present in 83% of local authority maintained schools.

Health and safety legislation does not require schools to inform parents about the presence of asbestos. Schools with asbestos are legally obliged to have a management plan, but not to make it public.

The Sunday Times is campaigning for a phased removal of asbestos, starting with schools and hospitals. Government policy is to leave it in place unless it is disturbed and damaged. But with many prefabricated structures constructed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in a state of disrepair, this is no longer a viable policy.

This is the five-point plan proposed to the Government:

1. Draw up a national strategy for the planned removal of all asbestos over the next 40 years, including identifying properties most in need of urgent action and clear guidance on the safe disposal of asbestos.

2. Create a national register of properties which contain asbestos and where it can be found. Owners of all non-domestic properties should be forced to comply with the rules for registration.

3. Develop an app, or digital register, that can be accessed by anyone renovating a property for free to discover if there is asbestos.

4. Introduce regular reporting of air quality around buildings that contain asbestos to monitor fibres.

5. Set minimum standards of training for appointed duty holders who are responsible for monitoring asbestos on properties.

Read more about our asbestos related case studies and hear from clients.