Asbestos in schools compensation claims

Updated: October 8, 2018

Introduction

Despite being completely banned since 1999, asbestos in still found in the structure of around 75% of UK schools. Because asbestos poses a significant hazard to health when disturbed, government policy has been to keep asbestos containing material (ACM) in situ, managing the risks rather than removing them.

Members of the Asbestos Consultants Association (ATCA), as well as MPs, teaching unions, school support staff and others, have serious concerns that asbestos management in many schools is not adequate. In some cases, the ATCA argue, this management is non-existent.

Evidence suggests that dangerous asbestos fibres can be released not only through poor management, but also through wear and tear. Such wear and tear may be inevitable in schools.

Asbestos in schools
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Why is asbestos so prevalent in schools?

Asbestos and ACMs were used extensively from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Many of today's schools were built or refurbished during this period under CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Program) a systematic approach to building which used standard designs, specifications and materials, including asbestos.

A school does not need to have been built under the CLASP scheme to be affected. Asbestos can also still be found in schools built after 1980, before it was banned.

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Why is asbestos so dangerous?

Material containing asbestos can release fibres into the air which, if inhaled, can damage the lungs and lead to serious diseases, such as asbestosis and Mesothelioma. Often symptoms do not appear until an average 20-30 years after exposure.

The three most common types of asbestos fibres are chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. According to a report by The Asbestos in Schools Group (2011), all schools contained Chrysotile. But there was also widespread use of amosite and crocidolite, which are much more dangerous 100 and 500 times respectively.

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What are the particular risks in schools?

In addition to ACMs being prevalent in schools, which is in itself a risk, the management of them by schools is considered by the ATCA to often be insufficient.

Some schools are in poor condition of upkeep generally, often because they are beyond their design life and there are inadequate funds to properly maintain the buildings.

Every time structural materials containing asbestos are hit, kicked, or otherwise stressed, fibres may be released. This can even be the case when the ACM is sealed by painting over.Normal classroom activities can also release fibres at significantly greater levels than background levels in other-use buildings. Over prolonged periods of exposure, the higher level can significantly increase the level of risk.

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What assurances can be sought?

Children and school staff are potentially at risk, but the risk can be significantly reduced if properly managed.

For peace of mind, parents can seek information on whether the school their child attends has ACMs. If the school was built before 2000 they can ask the Local Education Authority for a copy of the school's Asbestos Management Plan and Survey. Parents can also:

  • Ask teachers and asbestos managers what sealing is in place
  • If a CLASP school, ask if HSW/SCAPE guidance has been followed
  • Find out if air tests were undertaken in the school
  • Ask if all teachers know where the asbestos is
  • Ask the school how they manage it
  • Physically check for any signs of danger themselves

The Department for Education (DfE) recently reviewed its policies on asbestos management in schools, publishing their findings in March 2015. The review outlines how the government will give more support to people responsible for managing asbestos in schools.

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How much compensation can be claimed for a school asbestos illness?

The amount of compensation you will receive depends on a number of factors. Our asbestos-related compensation calculator provides an accurate estimate of your likely compensation.

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Paul Carvis, Personal injury solicitor

About the author

Paul is a member of the Law Society Personal Injury Panel, a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, and has served as a Deputy District Judge, giving him a uniquely broad understanding of the claims process.

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