Asbestos in schools

19 Feb 2015

I have been very busy building up an occupational disease caseload since I joined the firm as a partner in the Personal injury team earlier this year. My main focus is on respiratory diseases, especially those caused by asbestos exposure, and I now act for over twenty newly diagnosed victims of mesothelioma, asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer and pleural thickening. I deal with every such case on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, and unlike many solicitors working in this area of law, I do not charge a success fee from my clients’ compensation when I win their cases.

I recently settled a case for a former teacher in a local school who tragically died from mesothelioma after short episodes of exposure to asbestos dust and fibres when taking an interest in building work at his school in the 1960s.

Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc) and causes around 5000 deaths every year (HSE: Asbestos Health and Safety Guide 2014). In guidance issued by the Department for Education it is estimated that three quarters of schools in England have at least some buildings that contain asbestos.

In this context, and as a parent of two young children at school, it was sobering to read the June 2013 report of the Committee on Carcinogenicity in which it was noted that children exposed to asbestos are more vulnerable to the development of mesothelioma than adults. The lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be around five times greater for a child exposed aged 5 compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.

For all of these reasons, and as an accredited Senior Litigator in the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (apil), I was committed to endorse their response to the Department for Education’s policy review on asbestos management in schools in March 2014, when apil called for:

Clearer and greater central responsibility for tackling the problem of asbestos in schools;

Investment into locating asbestos, and into air sampling to gain necessary information about the scale of the problem. The location of asbestos should be registered and made available for those in school. Where appropriate, asbestos can be left in situ or encapsulated, but if necessary – where there is dilapidation, for example – the asbestos should be taken away safely before it is accidently disturbed and there is a serious risk to health;

Reintroduction of proactive inspection for schools;

Mandatory training and raised awareness of asbestos for those who work in schools;

A long-term plan for phased removal of asbestos needs to be carefully considered. Priority should be given to those schools where the asbestos is in the most dangerous or damaged condition.

I hope that all of these important suggestions are adopted when the Department for Education completes its policy review in 2015.

If you are ever diagnosed with any of the following actionable asbestos related diseases you may be entitled to compensation and should contact me straight away for free specialist advice:

  • Mesothelioma;
  • Asbestosis causing disability (pulmonary interstitial fibrosis);
  • Pleural thickening causing disability;
  • Asbestos related lung cancer.