Mesothelioma is a
huge problem in Great Britain. In fact, the UK is the mesothelioma incidence
capital of the world.
An estimated 53,000
people will die from mesothelioma in Great Britain over the next 25 years, according
to work and pensions minister Lord Freud in March. The figure is based on the
latest projections of annual mesothelioma deaths by the Health and Safety
Executive. The statistics are shameful ones. One small but vital part of these
statistics highlighted that there is quite clearly more to be done in making
our schools safer from the danger of asbestos.
long-awaited, and eight months overdue review ‘The Management of Asbestos in Schools’ was published last
month. The report calls for funding for the appropriate removal of asbestos,
better and more targeted guidance, enhanced accountability for duty holders,
and a better evidence base. So far so good.
with regard to evidence, an ideal opportunity was missed to establish a firm
factual basis from which to plan an effective strategy through excluding
asbestos from the Department for Education’s survey on the condition of school
buildings. The error is compounded by the review’s failure to rectify this
obvious mistake. As campaign group Asbestos in Schools (AiS) has powerfully stated:
“The Government is unaware of the extent,
type and condition of asbestos in our schools. The review has made no attempt
to rectify this. The DfE completed a two year survey recently on the condition
of school buildings. It specifically excluded asbestos. Asbestos is likely to
be one of the most expensive items when maintaining, refurbishing or demolishing
a school. Further, schools with the most dangerous materials cannot be
identified, priorities cannot be set and any financial forecasts will be
meaningless. The report goes no further than saying they will keep their
decision to exclude asbestos from the collation of data under review.
The review acknowledges that former pupils
have died because of their asbestos exposure at school, but it fails to
estimate the numbers who will die. The evidence it fails to include is that
between 200 and 300 people could die each year from their asbestos exposure as
a child at school in the 1960 and 1970s. Most of the asbestos remains, and there
is evidence the exposures continue. The report acknowledges that school
teachers and support staff are dying of the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. 158
school teachers have died in the last ten years and 291 have died since 1980.
Over a twenty year period between 4,000 and 6,000 people could die. That is an
appalling death toll just from the simple act of attending school”’
of a proper factual analysis overshadows the essential and overdue steps the review
rightly identifies. Any organisational plan requires an adequate factual analysis
of the problem. Tragically without it, it is feared that mesothelioma incidence
in our schools will not be significantly improved. So is there another way? AiS
cites the USA as a better model than our own Government’s inadequate review:
"Evidence was given how other countries have
tackled the problem. More than thirty years ago the USA carried out a similar
review of their asbestos policy for schools. It determined the extent of
friable asbestos in their schools, estimated the number of staff and former
pupils who would die. Because it acknowledged the increased risks to children
it adopted asbestos laws specifically for schools. In contrast we have still
not taken the preliminary steps of assessing the scale of the problem and the
risks. Both of these are central to any risk assessment or any cost benefit
What then is
the comparative performance of the USA in terms of hard facts? In 2012 the incidence in the UK was 39.2 per million per
annum of the population, and it is increasing. In the USA incidence has
stabilised since 1999 at less than 14 per million per annum. It established the
scale of the asbestos problem in schools and estimated that for every teacher
and support staff death from mesothelioma nine former pupils would die.
Consequently in 1986 they introduced stringent asbestos regulation for schools.
survey is vital and urgent, just as it was with the distribution of the child
meningitis vaccine. The Government here too must be shamed into action.