Coroners Inquest Due To Rule On School Teachers Mesothelioma Diagnosis

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Helen Grady – Partner on Simpson Millar's Industrial Disease team and asbestos specialist – will be attending a coroner's inquest in Exeter on Monday 5th December, where she hopes that the Coroner will be returning the verdict of Industrial Disease as the cause of death for her client.

Coroner's Inquest To Rule On Teacher's Asbestos-Related Mesothelioma Diagnosis

As mesothelioma is classed as an unnatural death, all incidents of this nature are reported to the Coroner, thus ensuring that vital statistics are accurately obtained for this disease, which is caused through occupational or environmental exposure.

Asbestos Exposure In Schools

Helen's client, Susan Stephens, passed away from mesothelioma earlier this year; it is expected that her exposure to asbestos during her 30 year teaching career is to blame for developing the incurable cancer as she did not have any other exposures or places of work.

Due to the late outright ban on the use of asbestos, which did not come into force until 1999, figures from Asbestos in Schools suggest that over 87% of schools in England still contain the toxic material.

Dormant asbestos is particularly dangerous in schools, due to the likelihood of the material being disturbed; disturbance can occur either because of the boisterous behaviour of children, the regular maintenance work undertaken at schools, or teachers pinning work and making other holes in the walls.

Due to the long latency period of asbestos-related illnesses, those exposed decades ago are only now becoming aware of the dangers present in most classrooms across the country.

Figures from the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), which is a cross-union campaign group that is calling for a complete removal of asbestos from schools across the UK, show that mesothelioma deaths among school staff have skyrocketed since the turn of the millennia.

Since 1980 at least 319 school staff have died from mesothelioma, 205 of these have died since 2001, meaning around 65% of deaths have come in the past 15 years. In 1980, an average of 3 school staff died from mesothelioma every year, in 2014 this figure sat at 17.

As well as school staff, children are particularly at risk of developing harmful conditions linked to asbestos exposure; a five year old child that is exposed to asbestos is five times more likely to develop mesothelioma than someone exposed during their 30s – it is estimated that between 200 and 300 of the 2,500 people that die from mesothelioma each year were exposed to asbestos as school children.

With mesothelioma deaths amongst school deaths on the rise, and after the tragic death of her mother, Lucie Stephens has started a petition to speed up the process of removing all asbestos from schools in the UK, which has almost reached its target of 9,000 signatures.

Industrial Disease Ruling

With Susan’s exposure likely to be related to her decades of teaching, Helen will be supporting her client's family during the coroner's inquest, which will consider evidence and reach a verdict on the cause of Susan’s death.

Helen explains:

"This is a significant hearing as it could underline the dangers posed to school children and school staff from dormant asbestos."

"A verdict of industrial disease is important in highlighting that Susan’s tragic death was caused directly by her occupation and the asbestos that she was exposed to during her working career."

"As a historic trade union firm we have campaigned to address dormant asbestos and to highlight the dangers posed by the left over material, which is a product of the UK's slow implementation of a complete ban."

"Since her mum's diagnosis and tragic passing, Lucie has been so proactive in addressing this issue and we hope that her petition reaches her 9,000 signature target; I am confident that a correct ruling of industrial disease will only add more weight to the goal of the petition and will further highlight the inherent danger of dormant asbestos in primary and secondary schools."


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