MPs to investigate hundreds of asbestos-related deaths among teachers

‘We have one of the worst asbestos legacies in the world,’ says campaign group

Rory Sullivan
Wednesday 17 November 2021 00:01
Comments
<p>Teachers are five times more likely than their average peers to die from asbestos-related diseases.</p>

Teachers are five times more likely than their average peers to die from asbestos-related diseases.

A committee of MPs will investigate the dangers of asbestos in British schools and hospitals, amid warnings that not enough is being done to stop preventable deaths linked to the toxic material.

Of the more than six million tonnes of asbestos remaining in public buildings in the UK, much of it is contained in educational and health facilities.

A total of 305 teachers were confirmed to have died from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, between 2001 and 2016, but the true number is thought to be much higher, according to the campaign group Airtight on Asbestos.

Primary school teachers are around five times more likely to die from asbestos-related conditions than their peers, its research showed.

Charles Pickles, the founder of Airtight on Asbestos, said the problem urgently needed to be addressed.

“We have one of the worst asbestos legacies in the world, and even today exposure to the substance cuts short the lives of 2 to 300 school children each year,” he said.

“Despite this, the government is in denial. Other countries have far better procedures for measuring and managing the handling of asbestos in public buildings. It is time the UK caught up.”

At the start of an asbestos inquiry being launched on Wednesday, Mr Pickles will tell MPs on the Commons work and pensions select committee that the UK does not have an adequate safeguarding policy regarding asbestos.

Under the current system, a designated “duty holder” is assigned to public buildings with asbestos by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is part of the Department for Work and Pensions.

“Some duty holders are either unaware of their responsibilities or unable to fulfil them. As a result, there is a lack of awareness about the presence and location of asbestos in public buildings,” Mr Pickles claimed.

“The issue is particularly bad in schools, where the knowledge and awareness of duty holders varies between schools that are privately owned, state funded, academy or local authority controlled,” he added.

Philip Blond, of the think tank ResPublica, which works with Airtight on Asbestos on its campaign, also urged the government to improve the status quo.

“Allowing toxic materials to sit in the walls of public buildings as they decay and grow increasingly dangerous is a tragic indictment of the current system of containment and control. The shocking death rate amongst teachers and nurses underlines the need to act fast,” he said.

Unlike in some other countries, the UK does not have a central register of asbestos in public buildings. This must be changed for public safety, Airtight on Asbestos will argue.

The campaign group will also recommend that duty holders receive better training and that the HSE be required to guarantee - rather than assume - that buildings are safe.

The committee’s asbestos inquiry will hear evidence over the next few months, before releasing a report on the issue in 2022.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in