Two previous articles on the HASAG website have talked about the risk caused by the presence of asbestos in non-domestic buildings. The first, dated 25th April 2022, outlined the recommendation by the Work and Pensions Committee, a Cross-Party Parliamentary committee, that asbestos be removed from non-domestic buildings within 40 years. Then, an article dated 30th August 2022 reported that the Government had refused to commit to implement the Committee’s recommendation.
Schools are arguably the type of institution for which the question of how to deal with the asbestos which is still in buildings is the most crucial. It is estimated that asbestos materials are present in between about 72% and 83% of English schools. As a result of the population boom which occurred after World War II there was a huge construction programme in schools between about 1950 and 1970. Many of the new buildings were so called “CLASP” schools. These used a centrally organised pre-fabricated standard building design. Asbestos was widely used in “CLASP” schools, including as fire proofing on steel structural columns and as insulation in ceiling tiles, panels and boards. About 3,000 such buildings are still in use today.
Official statistics state that between 2001 and 2016 305 former teachers died from Mesothelioma, but many experts believe that the true figure is probably higher than this. In its 2020 report the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the profession for females with the highest incidence of Mesothelioma was teaching/education. The women who were considered in this report were born between 1935 and 1954 and a significant number of them would probably have been working whilst “CLASP” schools were being built and fitted out.
A recent study has focused on female teachers born between 1955 and 1974, which is later than those who were surveyed in the 2020 report. These teachers would largely have been working in “CLASP” buildings after they had been built but whilst asbestos materials remained in place. These women are now generally in their late 40s to mid 60s and most began working after the 1970s. Much of the asbestos they were exposed to is still today in the school buildings they worked in.
Although the research so far has been based on a small number of cases, statisticians have found a rate of cases of Mesothelioma amongst women teachers born between 1955 and 1974 which is higher than that which they had expected. They say that this increased number “borders on statistical significance”.
As a consequence, the JUAC (a joint committee of trades unions which have a significant number of members affected by asbestos diseases) said in January 2023 that it has commissioned Julian Peto, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to carry out a more detailed study to investigate the incidence of Mesothelioma in this category of female teachers. Professor Peto has said that this is an important subject for study and that the crucial question is what the continuing risk to female teachers is and what should be done to reduce it.
Professor Peto has specialised in asbestos epidemiology for more than 40 years.
Independently, in September 2022, the HSE started a programme of asbestos inspections for primary and secondary schools in England, Scotland and Wales.