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Asbestos in schools: Our classrooms gave us cancer, report teachers

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The National Union of Teachers has said that teachers MUST be protected from the dangers of asbestos in UK schools. We have the stories of two former teachers.

Asbestos is known to be a particular issue in schools and it is thought that in 2013, 75% of schools in England had buildings containing it. BLS Asbestos has extensive experience of working in schools to safely remove asbestos, which is the most effective way to eradicate the risk of pupils and teachers being exposed to the substance.

Unfortunately, while the deadly risks posed by asbestos and the benefits of removing it from public buildings are now widely known, that knowledge came too late for some teachers and support staff. Some have developed terminal illnesses after, they believe, inhaling asbestos fibres in the classroom.

Jenny Darby, 71, who was a science teacher between 1969 and 1996, told the BBC she used to stick the ceiling tiles in her classroom back up every day as they would come off on a regular basis. She believes this could have been when she was exposed to asbestos; she has since been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer almost always caused by the substance.

David Martin, 70, from Mansfield, was diagnosed with mesothelioma three years ago. The news came as a real shock, as his former school had appeared to be very careful when it came to health and safety, and had a full asbestos management plan in place.

After the initial surprise of learning of his condition, David was awarded compensation by the local authority, including liability that was admitted due to his level of exposure to asbestos while working as a technician for the school.

Mesothelioma is a life threatening cancer which generally takes between 30 and 40 years to develop, so it is possible that teachers exposed to asbestos early in their careers before proper procedures for dealing with the risks were in place may not yet know of their conditions. Once diagnosed, most people can expect to live between just 12 and 21 months.

There are, however, steps schools can take to prevent any more staff or students being exposed to asbestos. By law, schools with buildings constructed before 2000 must have an asbestos management plan that details where the substance is located and sets out a schedule for monitoring its condition.

If the asbestos shows signs of deterioration it poses a much higher risk level and should be removed. Many schools also opt to remove asbestos as a precaution when the opportunity arises, such as when refurbishment work is planned.

Despite the law stipulating that schools should have asbestos management plans, an online survey for the NUT found that 44% of teachers had NOT been made aware that their school contained asbestos and of the dangers behind it.

“Asbestos still doesn’t appear to be a serious problem for schools’’, stated the NUT general secretary Christine Blower. “The government has no long-term strategy on how to deal with the substance in schools.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are in the process of improving the condition of the school estate, with billions being funded to will help ensure that asbestos is managed safely and that the amount in school buildings continues to reduce over time."

For more information about asbestos surveys for schools and other public buildings or to discuss asbestos removal by a licensed contractor, please contact BLS Asbestos.

Published: 24th July 2015