Asbestos Found In 264 Somerset Schools


The Law Of... finding asbestos in schools

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has discovered that 264 schools in Somerset are operating in buildings that contain dormant asbestos.

Asbestos Found In 264 Somerset Schools

With the material still present in a large number of buildings built before an outright ban on its usage came into force in the UK in 1999, the figures raise concerns that teachers and pupils could be in danger of exposure to the known carcinogen.

Dormant asbestos is common in buildings constructed before 1999, but due to many school premises featuring prefab classrooms or old buildings in need of regular maintenance the risk of exposure to disturbed asbestos is prevalent amongst teachers and pupils.

In response to the high risk of exposure to teachers and pupils, Asbestos Management Plans (AMPs) – which are designed to locate and identify the condition of dormant asbestos – are mandatory in schools under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Worryingly, FOIs submitted by Lucie Stephens, the daughter of Susan Stephens – a client of Simpson Millar who died of mesothelioma last year after being exposed to asbestos during her 30 year career as a schoolteacher – suggest that in many areas, individual schools still do not have AMPs.

Responding to the asbestos statistics for Somerset, Helen Grady – Partner in Industrial Disease and specialist in asbestos-related compensation claims – discusses the importance of removing dormant asbestos from the nation's schools and answers some important questions for those at affected schools in Somerset.

What Can I Do If I Think I've Been Exposed To Asbestos In A Somerset School?

The news that such a large number of Somerset schools feature asbestos will likely be a cause of concern for teachers and ex-pupils.

If you attended one of the 264 schools outlined by Somerset Live and you recall maintenance work at your school or remember walls or ceilings being disturbed regularly – which is common in schools with teachers regularly placing pins in walls – then you should certainly be making a note of this possible exposure, as this could help at a later date if you wish to make a claim.

While diseases and illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos take decades to develop and fortunately for the vast majority of people there will be no problems whatsoever, there are immediate steps that you can take if you think you have been exposed, as Helen explains:

"For those working in one of the Somerset schools listed in this FOI request, or for any ex-pupils that attended one of the schools, the true damage, if any, caused by the dormant asbestos in school buildings may not become apparent for decades to come."

"If you make a note and try to gather any evidence of your exposure when it does happen, then you can reference this information at a later date if necessary."

How Dangerous Is Asbestos?

Due to the UK being slow to implement a complete ban on the usage of asbestos in construction works, it is feared that there are still over 500,000 commercial properties and millions of homes that still hold the dormant material.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not consider it a necessity to remove all asbestos, as dangers only arise when occupants are not aware of the location, age, or condition of asbestos. Old, damaged, or deteriorating asbestos must be removed as a point of priority, as asbestos in a poor condition poses a significant safety risk to occupants.

When asbestos is disturbed the fibres that make up the material are extremely dangerous, as they can be inhaled and become lodged in a person's lungs for decades. This may cause damage following an inflammation of the area at a much later date – which is why the latency period for asbestos-related illnesses is so long.

Discussing the direct and unique risk of asbestos, Helen said:

"The illnesses that can develop after asbestos exposure are life threatening and asbestos-related diseases continue to kill more people every year than road traffic accidents. Amongst teachers the NUT claim that 300 teachers are dying every year from their exposure to asbestos in the classroom."

"Due to the continued presence of asbestos in many buildings, such as the hundreds of schools in Somerset, this general lack of awareness is a problem and makes exposure a 21st Century problem".

Can I Make A Compensation Claim For Asbestos Exposure At A Somerset School?

Compensation can be claimed when asbestos exposure leads to an illness, with those who were exposed in the last 20 and 30 years now possibly developing health problems.

There are Government payment schemes that compensate those diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, with the type of disease and conditions of the diagnosis all affecting how much can be received through Government schemes.

For civil claims, the organisation responsible for the school would be liable for any diseases or illnesses developed from asbestos exposure, as they have a duty of care for occupants and are expected to manage asbestos and reduce the likelihood of exposure. Over the years, Simpson Millar have also helped cleaners, maintenance contractors, including painters and decorators and carpenters who have worked in many schools across the South West and unknowingly and unwittingly encountered asbestos.

A recent BBC study found that schools across England have had to pay out at least £10 million to people who have developed illnesses because of asbestos in school buildings, however, these cases are usually contested and so costs will always be high.

Explaining how claims can help sufferers of asbestos-related illnesses, and how she has supported exposed school teachers in the past, Helen said:

"Many teachers were exposed at times when their employers had knowledge of the dangers of asbestos dust during the 70's, 80's and 90's, during which time there were a variety of regulations and legislation that made an employer responsible for protecting employees from asbestos exposure."

"One of the reasons that we campaign so tirelessly is that we feel that after decades of the dangers of asbestos being common knowledge exposure in the 21st Century is very concerning, people should not be at risk from a dormant danger of yesteryear."

"For years it was thought that professions at risk of asbestos exposure were those working in construction or at dockyards but we have recently seen that teachers are receiving verdicts of industrial disease at inquests after passing away from asbestos-related illnesses."

"Representing Susan's case, we were able to secure a ruling of Industrial Disease as the cause of death at the Exeter Coroner's Court, which underlined the danger to those who occupy school buildings every day and is an endorsement for the family that they lost the most important family member to something that was not her fault and should not have happened".

"The case of Susan Stephens highlights that there is an increased understanding of the dangers of exposure for teachers and pupils."

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