There has been a lot of concern recently about the risks to teachers and pupils from Covid-19, but another danger facing them comes from asbestos in our schools.
The Office for National Statistics reports that 91 British teachers and classroom assistants died of mesothelioma between 2001 and 2016. The figure rises to 305 when everyone who works in education is included. This is approximately three deaths among teaching staff in schools every term, rising to three times that number when everyone who works as an educator is included. The people at risk are teachers, non-teaching staff, students – and children from nursery school to school leaving age.
School and college buildings which were erected or last refurbished in the Twentieth Century often contain asbestos in their ceilings, walls, floors and more. Ironically, asbestos was often applied for fire safety reasons and to reduce carbon omissions, on or around electrical wiring, plumbing, pipes and insulation. It was also used in floor, ceiling and roof tiles, and other building components.
While asbestos has often been removed during refurbishment projects, austerity has meant that costly asbestos removal projects have been cancelled or delayed.
Asbestos is vulnerable to disturbance. Even human touch can cause sharp, microscopic fibres to break off undetected. If inhaled or swallowed, these fibres can cause lethal damage.
The government is working hard at the moment to keep people in employment. Now would be a good time to invest in a new programme to remove all asbestos from public buildings.
The full report from the ONS can be found here.