A quarter of those working in education have no idea what asbestos is despite the fact they could be working near it in schools every day, a threat that is worsened with the latest news regarding RAAC.
Ministers have ordered schools to immediately shut buildings made with the aerated concrete until safety work is undertaken, a decision that has seen thousands of pupils at more than 100 schools in England start the school year remotely.
However, any repairs carried out to the concrete could disturb any asbestos contained within the buildings, leading to increased risks for teachers and children.
The surprise findings about the lack of awareness of what asbestos is come after research carried about by leading legal services provider Slater and Gordon, shows staff that could be impacted aren’t aware of the danger they may be in.
Asbestos-related diseases still claim at least 5,000 lives every year. A long latency period means that very often several decades can pass before the onset of symptoms. For those who have been exposed to asbestos, the health implications can be devastating. Despite this, 13% of those working in education aren’t aware that exposure to asbestos could lead to health issues, including 73% of teachers.
Although asbestos, a type of mineral which is resistant to heat and corrosion, was finally banned in the UK in 1999, it is estimated that 1.5 million buildings in the UK still contain the cancer-causing material meaning the risk of exposure is still very real.
In fact, it is thought that asbestos could still be found in more than 75% of the 29,000+ schools in Great Britain as it was often used in ceiling and floor tiles, as insulation on pipes and boilers, and in numerous other guises. Slater and Gordon’s research found that 69% of those surveyed were not aware that asbestos can be found in walls, with 77% unaware it can be found in floor tiles. Half of those working in education are not aware that asbestos can be found in ceiling and floor cavities.
Jordan Bell, Principal Lawyer & head of Slater and Gordon’s specialist asbestos claims team, said:
“Although asbestos is no longer used in the construction of buildings, it is still present in buildings that were built well within living memory. Any building work in schools containing asbestos carries a real risk of exposing people using those buildings to asbestos dust. The dangers in the light of the RAAC scandal are only increased by the risk of building collapse, especially the collapse of buildings containing asbestos. It is so important that everyone, not just those who handled asbestos during the construction of these buildings, be made aware of what asbestos is and what the implications of exposure are.
“It is also important to ensure that family members of those who were employed in potentially high-risk industries whilst asbestos was still in use are aware of what asbestos is and the health risks they face. As asbestos-related illness can develop many years after the asbestos exposure, it may be worth speaking with elderly family members who worked in these contaminated environments to determine where they believe they were exposed and how that exposure to asbestos occurred.
“Despite the fact that asbestos is no longer used as a construction material, we are not seeing a reduction in the number of claims for asbestos-related conditions. This is in part due to the extended latency period of asbestos-related conditions, but we also cannot ignore the fact that it is still present in so many buildings. And as the years pass, the condition of these buildings and the asbestos in them will inevitably deteriorate, further increasing the risk of the killer dust being released into the atmosphere where people are living and working.
“If you, or a family member, has suffered with an asbestos-related disease, one of Slater and Gordons’ specialist asbestos claims lawyers will be able to advise you on next steps.”