Any research pointing to the continued pressing need for asbestos awareness training and removal services is always greatly saddening, but also necessary, given persistent perceptions in some quarters that asbestos-related disease ‘only’ affects those who have worked in construction or industrial environments.
The truth is that even seemingly ‘low-risk’ workplaces can still pose a danger of breathing in or other direct contact with the lethal fibres that could later develop into a deadly condition.
This has been demonstrated most recently by figures indicating that almost 400 people die of lung cancer in the UK each year as a consequence of exposure to asbestos at school – whether as a former pupil or teacher.
How have these numbers been determined?
Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that 40 teachers or support staff die from the asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, each year, with cases having increased by a third between 2015 and 2016.
Meanwhile, a study undertaken by the American Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that for every school staff member who dies, nine ex-pupils can also be expected to pass away.
This means that there could be about 360 people a year losing their lives due to asbestos they encountered as a pupil at a British school.
As reported by the Daily Express, due to the several decades that it typically requires for asbestos-related disease to develop after the sufferer’s initial contact with the harmful fibres, most cases – albeit not all – do not become apparent and diagnosed until teachers and pupils have left the school.
It is largely because of this that mesothelioma remains responsible for about 2,400 deaths in the UK annually, despite the substance having been banned on these shores in 1999.
Concerns expressed about the lingering risk in educational buildings
Despite such haunting figures, there is no obligation for schools to inform parents of the potential presence of asbestos in their child’s school. The law in this regard differs from the situation for employers, who do have to tell their employees if there is any risk of exposure to asbestos, in addition to being required to protect their workers from coming into contact with the material.
As said by one parent to the BBC’s regional Inside Out programme, in reference to their child’s school in Cumbria being temporarily closed due to the discovery of asbestos: “You expect to send your children to school for them to be safe in the building they’re in.
“You assume everything is managed correctly and if an asbestos disturbance has taken place, it’s acted on immediately – which in this instance, it doesn’t seem to be the case. It could have been there for months.”
Official HSE advice describes schools as “low-risk” for asbestos contact, adding that the substance is safe provided that it is contained, properly managed and left undisturbed.
Nonetheless, for many parents, former pupils, teachers, support staff and their loved ones, such figures as the above point to asbestos awareness training, surveys, air monitoring and related services continuing to play a vital role in ensuring the safety of school building users for many more years to come.
Contact the Trident Asbestos Solutions team today, on 03333 441555, to receive a competitive quote for any of our acclaimed asbestos services.