Asbestos in Schools

Written evidence submitted by Mr Michael Lees


Executive summary

1. More than three quarters of the schools in Britain contain asbestos. One of the more dangerous forms of asbestos, amosite (brown asbestos), was extensively used and much is in locations vulnerable to damage from pupils. Because the Government’s policy is to manage asbestos for the remaining life of the building rather than removing it, most of it remains in situ. In the 1980s the Association of Metropolitan Authorities had a policy of identifying the most dangerous asbestos and progressively removing it, because they considered it was not only safer but in the long run it was cheaper.

2. Asbestos consultants visit most schools and they conclude that the majority are neither effectively nor safely managing their asbestos. Despite this asbestos training for school governors and staff is not mandatory. This has resulted in numerous asbestos incidents where staff and pupils have been exposed to cumulatively significant levels of fibres, sometimes regularly from common classroom activities. The government has cancelled the system of determining whether schools are managing their asbestos. As increasing numbers are leaving local authority control, the responsibility for ensuring they are safe rests on the governors, who invariably do not have the knowledge or expertise to ensure asbestos is allocated the resources it warrants.

3. Significant numbers of school teachers, support staff and former pupils have died and are dying of the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma. Based on U.S estimates it is possible that more than 100 former pupils are dying every year. The risks to pupils are such that in general asbestos risk insurance is not available.

4. The Government have not assessed the scale of the problem and have excluded asbestos from the Property Data Survey Programme, despite the fact that it is probably one of the most expensive items when a school is maintained or refurbished. This means that their financial forecasts will be meaningless. There is a lack of transparency and the risks are played down so that the public are generally unaware that there is a problem, which has meant that successive Governments have felt able to indefinitely delay taking the necessary action to make schools safe. This position is no longer sustainable.

Michael Lees

5. My wife Gina was a primary school teacher who died of mesothelioma at the age of fifty one. At her inquest the coroner gave a verdict of death from industrial disease. Over the course of a thirty year teaching career she taught in twenty five schools, some as permanent posts and some as a supply teacher. Most of the schools contained asbestos, in some the asbestos was in a dangerous condition, in some the asbestos was regularly disturbed. In a number of schools there was no system of asbestos management and the school authorities were unaware of the location of asbestos, to the extent that in one school two former headteachers had no idea that the school contained any asbestos, let alone that all the ceilings were asbestos insulating board.

6. After my wife’s death in September 2000 the coroner asked me to determine where she had been exposed to asbestos. It soon became evident that she had regularly been exposed to low levels of mainly amosite fibres (brown asbestos) over the course of many years. The other teachers, school support staff and pupils had also been exposed to asbestos. It also became clear that this was a lot wider problem than just the schools my wife had taught in, as there is evidence that many other schools are failing to protect staff and pupils from the dangers of asbestos.

7. My concerns are also held by a wide body of interested organisations and individuals who consider that there is a considerable problem of asbestos in schools and that too little is being done to address it. In 2007 we therefore founded the Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) to bring together our practical experiences and expertise in a coordinated operation to make schools safe from the dangers of asbestos.

8. The AiS Chair is Annette Brooke MP, our members and supporters include all the teaching and school support unions, the asbestos consultants association ATAC, solicitors, members of the medical profession, risk experts, the independent bursars association, the asbestos victims support forum, the Hazards organisation, the London Boroughs Asbestos Group and people who have been directly affected by asbestos in schools. I am also a named member of the DfE Asbestos Steering Group.

The Problem

9. There is a serious problem of asbestos in schools. In February 2012 the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety stated that this is a national scandal and urgent action is required. [1]

10. More than three quarters of schools contain asbestos, [2] all the asbestos is old and much of it is deteriorating. 14,210 schools were built during the period 1945-1975 when the use of asbestos was at its height, and many others were refurbished. Amosite was used extensively in their construction, some contain blue asbestos (crocidolite), and the majority contain white asbestos (chrysotile). [3]

11. Britain has the highest mesothelioma incidence in the world at more than twice that of France, Germany or the USA. An HSE report concluded that is because we imported more amosite than any other country. [4] All types of asbestos can cause the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, but amosite is up to 100 times more likely to cause the disease than chrysotile, and crocidolite is up to 500 times more likely to. [5]

12. The occupants of schools are being exposed to asbestos and increasing numbers are subsequently dying from mesothelioma. The number of school teachers dying from mesothelioma in Britain has increased from 3 a year in the 1980s to 14 a year in the last ten year period. More than 253 school teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980 with more than 139 dying in the last ten years. [6] Perhaps some have been exposed elsewhere, but many are known to have been exposed at school and because of teachers’ career pattern the occupation recorded on their death certificate is likely to be the occupation in which the exposure occurred. [7]

13. T he occupational statistics do not include mesothelioma deaths above the age of 74, although almost as many people die of mesothelioma above that age as below. Studies have shown that lower exposures on average have longer latencies, [8] and therefore in a profession such as teaching it is reasonable to assume that as many, or perhaps more, teachers have died over the age of 74. If so, the occupational statistics significantly understate the actual numbers of teachers who have died. School caretakers, cleaners, cooks, secretaries, teaching assistants, nursery nurses and former pupils have also died of the cancer. [9]

14. Schools are unique workplaces because they not only contain the workforce, but they also contain children who are more at risk from asbestos exposure than adults. Every child in the United Kingdom is required to attend school so the numbers facing potential exposure are much larger than in any other workplace. A report commissioned by the Medical Research Council examined the extent of asbestos in school buildings and concluded "It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that the entire school population has been exposed to asbestos in school buildings... Exposure to asbestos at school may therefore constitute a significant part of total exposure." [10] It is equally reasonable to assume that the widespread exposure of a large number of people at a very young age has contributed to the exceptional mesothelioma incidence in Britain.

15. In 2011 the Supreme Court confirmed the judgment that Dianne Willmore had been negligently exposed to asbestos as a pupil at school and the exposure had materially contributed to her mesothelioma. They also accepted the expert medical opinion that there is no known level of exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk. [11]

16. Although it is known how many teachers have died it is not known, because of the long latency, how many children have subsequently died. The USA assessed that for every teacher and support staff death from mesothelioma nine former pupils would subsequently die from their asbestos exposure at school. [12] Proportionately that would equate to significantly more than 100 deaths a year in Britain. That is clearly a matter of national importance, but it has never been properly addressed.

17. The Government’s advisory Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) are assessing the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos. Their provisional conclusion is that children are more vulnerable than adults because they will live longer for the disease to develop.  A child of five years old is about five times more likely to develop mesothelioma by the age of eighty than an adult aged thirty. [13] Although there is scientific uncertainty whether children are also more vulnerable because of their physical immaturity, it is known that if a child younger than five years old suffers serious damage to their lungs the damage will remain for life. [14]

Government Policies – Flaws in Basic Assumptions

18. At the February 2012 Parliamentary debate on asbestos in schools the Minister stated that "We will review our policy on asbestos management and our advice to schools when we receive the (COC) committee’s report later this year." [1]

19. It is essential that government policy on asbestos in schools is reviewed as there is increasing evidence that the present policies are outdated and do not give adequate protection for the occupants of schools. They are a short term expedient and do not provide a long term solution.

20. The Government’s policy on asbestos in schools is: "Asbestos which is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed or damaged is better left in place and managed until the end of the life of the building as this presents less risk of exposure to the occupants than the process of removing it." [2]

21. Because successive governments have had the same policy most of the asbestos remains in situ. The longstanding policy is now flawed and outdated with the Education Capital Review concluding that "Significant parts of the school estate were and are in an unacceptable state." It is in a dilapidated state through lack of maintenance, long term under investment, fair wear and tear and vandalism. The CEO of PfS stated that 80% of the school stock is beyond its design life. [3]

22. All the asbestos is now old and, as the buildings have deteriorated, so has the asbestos they contain. Consequently much of the asbestos is no longer in good condition and has been disturbed or damaged.

23. The techniques of asbestos removal have also advanced so that if carried out correctly they do not present a risk to the occupants. Some schools have already had asbestos removed safely as have many other buildings including the Houses of Parliament, Department of Education offices and the Department of the Environment HQ.

24. In addition there is an ongoing risk to occupants as numerous asbestos incidents have occurred, and are still occurring in schools. [4] If asbestos is present then there will always be the possibility that it will be disturbed and asbestos fibres released.

25. Although the total removal of asbestos must be the goal, it cannot be achieved overnight. In the 1980s the Association of Metropolitan Authorities had a policy of phased removal by prioritising the most dangerous materials, as it is safer and, in the long run, is also cheaper. [5] The practice stopped when the organisation ceased to exist, however phased removal remains the policy of Nottinghamshire. If this is adopted as a national policy the problem will eventually be resolved, but if phased removal is not adopted asbestos will remain a problem in schools indefinitely.

Financial flaws in the policy

26. Effective asbestos management is a continuous drain on resources and the presence of asbestos in a school means that extra costs are incurred for even the smallest maintenance task. The services in thousands of buildings have passed their design life but, if asbestos is present, they can only be replaced if the asbestos is removed first. If a school is refurbished or demolished then the cost of asbestos remediation can be one of the major costs and considerable cost overruns have occurred through unexpected asbestos remedial and removal work. [1] However the scale of the asbestos problem in the nation’s schools is not known so realistic financial forecasts for maintaining, refurbishing or replacing schools cannot be made.

27. The Schools Capital Review was critical that the government does not know the condition of its £110billion school estate. They recommended that "The Department urgently needs to build up a better picture of the condition of the educational estate that it funds.... The first step should be to collate all existing information sources and to establish a simple, well-designed database to manage this information." [2] Despite the recommendation DfE has specifically excluded asbestos from the Property Data Survey Programme and will collate no information on asbestos into its database. [3] This will mean that any future financial forecasts based on the audit will be meaningless. [4]

28. DfE have stated that the decision to exclude asbestos could not be reversed until after the present five years contracts have expired, and at a meeting with the Minister in January DfE claimed that the condition surveys of schools was too far advanced to include asbestos. [5] Perhaps the excuses are valid if the intention was to include asbestos in the surveys of school buildings, however that is not the case. The proposal is that data on asbestos that is already available in schools and local authorities is entered on the DfE Asset Management Software system. Expert advice has been sought and there is no valid technical [6] or logistic reason that cannot be achieved, even at this stage of the process.

29. Data should be collated on DfE’s Asset Management Software on asbestos in schools, so that the overall scale of the problem is known and those schools and local authorities with the worst asbestos problems can be identified. This would allow the government to make sound, long term financial forecasts. It would enable them to allocate proportionate resources so that the limited funds are targeted for maintenance, refurbishment or replacement at those schools in the greatest need and those that present the greatest risk.

Training and Management flaws in the policy

30. Government policy relies on schools having rigorous and effective systems of asbestos management with the necessary resources available and all members of staff trained in asbestos awareness or asbestos management. However the evidence is that the policy has failed over a prolonged period of time.

31. Members of the asbestos consultants association visit thousands of schools throughout the country and they conclude: "The evidence is that the system of asbestos management in many schools is not of an adequate standard, in some it is ineffective, in others it is almost non-existent, and in some it is at times dangerous... These are not minor problems that have crept in over recent years; rather they are fundamental problems that are endemic in schools in the UK..." [1]

32. In 2011 HSE published the results of inspections they had carried out in academies and schools outside local authority control to determine their standards of asbestos management. [2] The inspections resulted in enforcement action being taken in 17% of schools for failures in asbestos management. More than half of the eighty schools that carried out their own maintenance and building work had failed to train their staff. [3]

33. Two previous rounds of inspections of local authority schools resulted in enforcement action being carried out for failing to manage asbestos in their system built schools. In the first round of inspections improvement notices were issued in 17% of schools [4] and in the second round they were issued to 24% of the 42 local authorities inspected, in addition the remainder were given formal guidance to improve their asbestos management. In some cases the local authorities had failed to follow critical asbestos guidance in all their schools. [5]

34. In October 2012 a Welsh secondary school was closed with immediate effect on receipt of a report that identified damaged asbestos, widespread asbestos debris and classroom heaters that were blowing asbestos fibres into the classrooms. The school had failed to safely manage its asbestos and had even failed to follow guidance that had been issued thirty years before that warned of the potential for asbestos fibre release from the heaters. The type of heaters was one of the most common in schools, therefore the Asbestos in Schools Group asked DfE to issue an urgent warning to all schools about the inherent dangers of these heaters. As at 20th February 2013 this has not been done.

35. The Minister for Education at the National Assembly of Wales asked all local authorities "To confirm that they were undertaking their statutory duties in accordance with the legislation, along with copies of Asbestos Management Plans." After analysis of the returns the Minister stated "I do not feel sufficiently assured at this stage that local authorities are discharging their statutory duties to manage asbestos and have sufficient plans in place." [6] This adds to all the evidence that a significant number of schools are not safely managing their asbestos.

36. A new problem is that increasing numbers of schools are leaving local authority control to become academies. By doing so they will normally lose the expertise of the local authorities, and in many cases the governors and school authorities do not have the training or expertise to effectively manage their asbestos.

No proactive inspections in local authority schools

37. If a comprehensive system of inspecting the standards of asbestos management had been in place at the school in Wales then their failure to manage their asbestos would have been identified many years before, and the asbestos exposure of generations of staff and pupils could have been prevented.

38. A second round of HSE inspections is programmed in England, Scotland and Wales for 150 schools outside local authority control, but this is a one off project that will inspect only 0.5% of all schools. Neither HSE nor local authority inspectors will carry out proactive inspections in local authority schools. [1] Once the project is complete there are no plans to undertake further inspections, instead HSE will rely on school staff to report flaws in asbestos management. Also, depending on the seriousness of an incident, they will decide whether to carry out a reactive inspection after an incident has occurred. [2]

39. This is not a satisfactory long term strategy for ensuring safe standards are achieved. Proactive inspections have proved their worth, and if schools are expected to manage their asbestos there has to be a proper system in place to ensure that they are.

Workplace Control Levels should not be applied to schools

40. Workplace airborne fibre control levels for asbestos are applied to the occupants of schools. This is unsafe and inappropriate as there is no known threshold exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk.

41. The Clearance Indicator is a workplace level for asbestos contractors, but, by default it has been adopted as a level at which classrooms can be re-occupied following work on asbestos or after an asbestos incident in a school. But it is not a safe level as a person will inhale 6000-10,000 fibres an hour. HSE advise it is not an acceptable environmental level for normal occupation, and revised guidance will reinforce this. [1]

42. A report commissioned by the Medical Research Council concluded that the background asbestos fibre level in schools with asbestos in good condition is 0.0005f/ml. [2] The courts and expert medical opinion is that exposures above that level are "significant" and can materially increase the risk of mesothelioma developing. [3] The Clearance Indicator is twenty times greater than the background level and will therefore materially increase the risk of mesothelioma developing.

43. In 1979 the government’s advisory committee on asbestos warned about the increased risk to children "As children can be expected to live longer than adults they have more chance of being affected by carcinogens with long latent periods." [4] In 1983 the Department for Education concluded that "It may therefore be not unreasonable to suggest that in schools the levels should be lower than those for an "average" population and a factor of, say, 1/80th to 1/100th of the occupational limits should be adopted." [5] The proposals have never been adopted, however the Netherlands Government are considering a report by the Health Council of the Netherlands that considers that their present occupational levels are unsafe and recommends an occupational exposure limit for amosite some 300 times less than the EU level, and an environmental level at 3,000 times less than their present occupational level. [6] The proposals have been accepted by the Netherlands Ministry of Social Affairs and are scheduled to be implemented from April 2013 onwards. [7]

44. An environmental airborne fibre level should be adopted in schools in the United Kingdom.

Air sampling identifies risk

45. There have been a number of cases in schools where air sampling has identified that asbestos fibres were being released into the rooms. In some cases it is probable that the releases had been taking place for many years but had passed unnoticed. For instance the release of amosite fibres from classroom cupboards, slamming doors, hitting walls and columns, from displaying children’s work and from heaters was only identified by air sampling. [1]

46. The hazard is the presence of the asbestos, but the risk to the occupants is when the asbestos fibres become airborne and can be inhaled. Because the danger is the inhalation of airborne fibres there should be a method in schools of identifying whether asbestos fibres are being released into the rooms. (HSE disagree as they consider that air sampling has no place in the management of asbestos in schools, but they have offered no other solution to determine whether asbestos fibres are being released. [2] )

47. An asbestos survey identifies the hazard, but rarely identifies the risk, whereas widespread air sampling in schools would identify the risk and would allow targeted measures to be taken to prevent further releases. It would be cost effective as remedial measures could be targeted at those schools, and even rooms, where there really is a problem. In the long run it would not only save lives, it would also save money.

48. AiS propose that a trial is carried out to perfect the methodology for widespread air sampling in schools.

In general pupils are not insured for asbestos risks.

49. There are increasing numbers of asbestos related claims against schools and local authorities, which will inevitably continue so long as asbestos remains in schools. Despite this children and non-employees are generally no longer insured. A Parliamentary written answer confirmed "there is a general asbestos exclusion for public liability insurance." [1] The fact that insurance companies will not provide insurance cover for pupils puts the risks from asbestos into perspective. However, in the absence of commercial insurance, future claims can still be met in local authority schools as they self insure. But most academies and free schools do not have the resources to do so.

50. In February 2013 there were 2,673 academies and the legal responsibility for the safety of pupils and non-employees rests on the academy trust. Therefore they are legally liable for any claim that may be made against the academy. The Government have stated that they will not accept any liabilities but have not provided an answer to how future claims will be met. Instead DfE have said that they will deal with any future claims on a case by case basis. [2] This is a flawed policy because the long latency of mesothelioma will mean that the first claim from someone exposed in an academy might not be for thirty years, at which time it is far too late to realise there are no funds to meet the claims.

51. A government policy of managing asbestos cannot be considered viable if there is no credible means of meeting future asbestos claims.

HSE advises the Government but fails to follow its framework for the management of risk

52. An HSE publication describe s the framework for their decision making o n the management of risk:

"The framework makes clear that:

· Both the level of individual risks and the societal concerns engendered by the activity or process must be taken into account when deciding whether a risk is unacceptable, tolerable or broadly acceptable;

· The decision-making process and criteria adopted are such that action taken is inherently precautionary." [1]

HSE have failed to follow the framework in their advice to the Government on the management of asbestos risks in schools. The following is an analysis of these failings:

U.S Government assessed risks and considered them unacceptable. No assessment in Britain.

53. When decisions are taken and policy made the evidence that should be taken into account is that t here is an individual risk to many teachers, school support staff and pupils .

54. The Medical Research Council document concluded that there was extensive use of amphiboles in system built schools and that it is not unreasonable to assume that the entire school population has been exposed to asbestos in school buildings. Their assumption has been confirmed by frequent evidence of asbestos fibre release in schools and the exposure of the occupants . T he inevitable consequence is that school teachers, school support staff and former pupils are dy ing of asbestos related disease .

55. I n the 1980s t he U.S Government assessed the scale of the asbestos problem in schools and the risks. They also took into account the greater vu lnerability of children and the probability that they are being exposed to asbestos at the same time as their teachers . They therefore had a sound scientific basis on which to conclude that the risks are un acceptable. Consequently in 1986 they introduced specific asbestos regulations for schools where preventative actions were taken to reduce the risks to staff and in particular to pupils. [1]

56. This has not happened in the UK although the risks are far greater. Instead, d espite considerable evidence to the c ontrary, the HSE has advised the Government that the risks from asbestos in schools are very low. Because of this advice t he Minister has stated that if that is the case then spending large sums of money on mitigating the effects of asbestos cannot be justified. [2]

HSE claim that decisions are inherently precautionary cannot be justified

57. The HSE advice and Government policy are not based on sound scientific evidence. Successive Government s have failed to collate data on the scale of the problem and have cancelled the process of assessing whether their policy of managing asbestos is working. In stead they base their policies primarily on advice from the HSE. T here is , however, a considerable, and growing, body of expert opinion that considers that the HSE advice is wrong.

58. Instead of taking all the evidence into account H SE cherry pick s those aspects that support their advice that the risks from asbestos in schools are very low. An example is a paper they submitted to both the Government’s advisory committee on science (WATCH) and to the Committee on Carcinogenicity. The paper had been requested by WATCH to "Summarise the knowledge it has on airborne levels of asbestos in buildings for the next WATCH meeting." [1] The HSE paper included irrelevant data and excluded relevant data, it excluded any tests that had shown raised fibre levels and only included two exceptionally low levels that were an order of magnitude lower than had previously been found in UK buildings.

59. The same unbalanced and misleading summary was then supplied to the COC secretariat for the committee’s assessment of the relative vulnerability of children to asbestos. [2] Both committees acc epted the evidence on face value , despite the COC being given author itative evidence that showed that disturbance and fibre levels can frequently be considerably higher than HSE were telling them. Both committees advise the Government and yet the "scientific" basis for their decisions and policy are flawed.

60. Because all the teaching and support staff unions are concerned about the risks to their members from asbestos in schools they have com e together to coordinate their resources to make schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. They have advised the Government , HSE and DfE that their policy of managing asbestos has not, and is not working . B ecause of it their members are dying , and will continue to die unless fundamental changes are made . The asbestos c onsultants ha ve confirmed that many local authorities and schools are not effectively or safely managing their asbestos. The HSE are ignoring what they are told by expert organisations whose members are on the ground. The HSE assurances to the Government that their policy of asbestos management is working are not soundly based on the practical realities of what occurs in schools or on a proper analysis of the evidence.

61. The Government took the decision to exclude asbestos from the audit of school buildings despite advice from the local authorities, the unions, asbestos consultants and others. In addition HSE dismissed the request to undertake a trial of widespread air sampling in schools. These decisions cannot be justified as they deliberately exclude essential data that is required if there is to be a sound basis for assessing the risks and the financial costs .

62. When Coroner’s Courts have found evidence of significant exposure at school they have given verdicts of death from industrial disease at the i nquests of school teachers and support staff. But those exposures have been dismissed by senior HSE officials and Government Ministers with the inference that they happened anywhere other than a school. In addition, without examining the evidence, HS E has also dismissed the verdicts , with the implication that the coroner s were wrong. [3] Because they have dismissed the evidence of exposure and the findings of the Courts, valuable lessons have been lost.

63. HSE claim that their policy is "inherently precautionary." But they have failed to collate data, they have selectively chosen dat a, ignored what experts on the ground are telling them and have dismissed the growing evidence that people have been, and continue to be exposed to asbestos in schools and that those exposures have already caused people to die , and will continue to do so . That is not inherently precautionary, rather it is a blinkered approach that excludes or dismisses unpalatable evidence. By doing so they have failed to provide successive Governments with a sound scientific basis on which they can base their policies.

64. Successive Governments have been advised by HSE that the risks to the occupants of schools are very low. Consequently they have felt able to justify their policy th at it is safer to leave asbestos in place and manage it than it is removing it . If HSE now publicly admi t that they have been wrong then that would not only be embarrassing for them but also it would be embarrassing for the Government . It would mean that the Government would have to publicly acknowledge that their policies have been , and are, flawed . The direct implication of that would be a tacit acknowledgement that generations of school staff and pupils have been, and remain, at risk.

65. A European Environmental Agency paper published in January 2013 is directly relevant to HSE and their advice . It says:

"The scientific elites have also been slowly losing public support. This is in part because of the growing number of instances of misplaced certainty about the absence of harm, which has delayed preventive actions to reduce risks to human health, despite evidence to the contrary." [4]

66. HSE has provided advice to successive Governments for almost forty years. That advice has played down the risks and provided the Government with the evidence they need to support their policy. Because of this each Government in turn has felt able to delay taking the fundamental preventative actions that are desperately required to reduce the risks to the occupants of schools from asbestos.

A lack of transparency avoids having to address "S ocietal " concerns

67. So long as the Government can keep the facts from the public then the problem of taking society’s concerns into account are also avoided. But if people were aware of the extent of the problem then one must question whether society would consider it acceptable that school teachers, support staff and children are being exposed to asbestos and subsequently dying from the simple act of attending school.

68. It is apparent that successive governments have considered the pr oblem of asbestos in schools too big to handle. This has led to a la ck of transparency. Government s are concerned that if the public were aware of the true scale of the problem they would panic and demand the removal of all asbestos from their children’s schools. [1] This irrational fear is the reason why an assessment has never been made of the scale of the problem and has meant that proportionate action has never been taken. The policy has led to "spin" being put on public statements and even science. [2] It has also meant that many staff and parents have not been informed of asbestos incidents or of their exposure and that of their children. [3] This lack of transparency is contr ary to the open policies of both the Opposition and the Government.

69. As the facts have been kept from the public there has been no pressure on successive Governments to tackle the problem, and they have therefore been able to delay indefinitely having to take the action that is required. That policy is no longer sustainable as there is increasing public awareness so that parents, teachers, school support staff and the unions are questioning whether the assurances they have been given are justified. They are understandably concerned whether the schools they work in, or their children attend, really are safe. And if they are not safe they now expect positive action to be taken.

70. In contrast for more than twenty five years the USA has required parents and teachers to be annually updated on the presence and condition of any asbestos and the measures taken to manage it. [4] This has not created panic, but it has meant that staff and parents are aware of the dangers of asbestos and has in general led to schools achieving acceptable standards so that the occupants are safe.

71. A decision making process often relies on a cost benefit analysis that weighs the financial cost of taking action against benefits. In the case of asbestos one of the benefits is measured in terms of the number of lives saved. Particularly where children are involved the process must be open to public scrutiny and decisions and policy must take into consideration society’s concerns. That has happened in the USA, but not in Britain. In Britain the scale of the problem and the risks have not been assessed, so decision making and cost benefit analyses have not been based on sound scientific data. In addition, because of a lack of transparency, the public have not been included so that calculations and decisions have been without public influence and scrutiny.

72. All Governments, of whatever political party, have failed to properly address the considerable problem of asbestos in schools. All the parties should now practice their commonl y stated policy of transparency , assess the scale of the problem and the risks and work together to solve the problem of asbestos in schools .


It is recommended that:

· A policy of openness should be adopted. Parents, teachers and support staff should be annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.

· Data on asbestos in schools should be collated on the Asset Management System as part of DfE’s Property Data Survey Programme, so that the overall scale of the problem is known, financial forecasts made and those schools and local authorities with the worst asbestos problems can be identified and targeted.

· Standards in asbestos training should be set and the training should be mandatory. The training should be properly funded.

· Pro-active inspections to determine the standards of asbestos management in all schools should be reinstated.

· An environmental airborne fibre level is adopted for schools

· A trial of widespread air sampling for schools is commissioned.

· The Government should set a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority being given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.

· A review of government policy on asbestos in schools is carried out. The review has to be independent of the government. It is therefore considered that the Education Select Committee is the ideal body. Implementation of most of the above recommendations should not be delayed by the review.

Feb ruary 2013

[1] APPG on Health and Safety: Asbestos in Schools the Need for Action Feb 2012

[2] DfE Asbestos management in schools: What asbestos is and when it becomes a risk 22 Oct 2012

[3] Fibrous Materials in the Environment. Medical Research Council Institute for Environment and Health. P72 . 1997

[4] HSE Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in Britain. 2009 . IMIG Congress Abstract 25-27 Sep 2008

[5] The Quantitative Risks of Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer in Relation to Asbestos Exposure Ann. Occup. Hyg. , Vol. 44, No. 8, pp. 565–601, 2000 Hodgson and Darnton Is there a threshold?

[6] HSE Mesothelioma occupational statistics: Male and female deaths aged 16-74 1980-2000 Table 3,4 Southampton Occupation Group. 5 year time period 1980-2000 excluding 1981. E-mail HSE Statistics Unit/Lees 15 Jul 2008. Mesothelioma deaths in the education sector for males and females 2001-2005. HSE Mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain: Analyses by Geographical area and occupation 2005 Tables 11, 13 (2002-2005). HSE Epidemiology Unit CSAG, table 0977/Lees 2 Mar 2011 HSE Epidemiology Unit, table 0925./Lees 25 Feb 2011 . E-mail HSE Statistics Unit/Lees 21 Nov 2012 . Mesothelioma deaths in the education sector for males and females 2001-2010.

[7] E-mail DCSF Workforce Group /Lees 27 January 2010 15:47 Case Reference 2010/0004693 “ The average length of service for full-time teachers is about 30 years ” . And Scottish Parliamentary written answer S2W-15080 18 Mar 2005 Death certificate is based on last occupation. Therefore occupation on retirement or death. Average length of service at retiring age, early retirement or because of ill health is about 33 years.

[8] Asbestos exposures in malignant mesothelioma of pleura; a survey of 557 cases Bianchi Industrial health 2001,39, 161-167 . Malignant mesothelioma due to environmental exposure to asbestos: follow up of a Turkish cohort living in a rural area. Chestp2228. Metintas

[8] Mesothelioma: cases associated with non-occupational and low dose exposures Hillerdal Occup Environ Med 1999:56:505-513

[9] See: Asbestos in Schools. The scale of the problem and the implications. P34-42

[10] Fibrous Materials in the Environment .Medical Research Council Institute for Env ironment and Health. P72 and 73 . 1997

[11] Supreme Court Judgment Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council v Willmore 9 March 2011. .High Court QBD Liverpool District. The Hon Mr Justice Nicol . Dianne Willmore and Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council 24 July 2009 Para 4 .

[12] EPA Support document for the proposed rule on friable asbestos-containing materials in school buildings EPA report 560/12-80-003 p92. American Academy of Pediatrics Asbestos Exposure in schools Pediatrics vol 79, no 2 Feb 1987 p301- 305 Reaffirmed May 1994 .

[13] HSE Statistics Branch Darnton The quantitative risks of mesothelioma in relation t o low-level asbestos exposure BOHS 17 Oct 2007 . Watch Annex 2 Darnton 27 Oct 2010 p 15

[14] Committee on Carcinogenicity. Lees contemporaneous notes 12 Jul 2012

[1] Debate House of Commons Asbestos in Schools - Tuesday 7 February 2012 -(Hansard text) penultimate paragraph.

[1] Also House of Lords Written answer Lord Hill HL15579 16 Feb 2012 : Column WA184


[2] Parliamentary Written Answer Minister of State for Schools 8th February 2011

[3] Chief Executive PfS Today programme 1 Apr 2010 . 4 mins 24 secs

[4] See examples of asbestos incidents: and:

[5] Association of Metropolitan Authorities. Asbestos Policy and Practice in Local Authorities. Sep 1985 para 2,2.8 p 2

[1] For example: Select Committee on Education and Skills Jarvis plc memorandum >£1.4m Jun 2003. Para 5.5. .

[1] Capital Programme Urgent works Nightingale Junior School £700,000 Derby CC Corporate Policy Cabinet meeting 24 May 2007.

[1] William Parker School: Approximate increase in cost of project due to discovery of asbestos in ceilings: £495,800 IEA Refurbishment and re - cladding of 1970s classroom and laboratory block p149 South Ayrshire Council Proposed closure of Mainholm Academy Report by the Director of Education, Culture and Lifelong Learning January 2007 . £13.9m . “ .. maintaining the school buildings has proved far more costly and troublesome than anticipated with asbestos making access a problem.” Evening Times 19 Apr 2006 . Also see: Issues of Using CLASP to transform learning – Nottinghamshire County Council 24 Nov 2008. Refurbishment 94% cost of new build. P3 and 6

[2] Review of Education Capital April 2011 Para 2.25

[3] Property data survey programme memorandum of supplementary information 17 Oct 2011 p8

[4] See an analysis of the exclusion of asbestos from the audit of school buildings:

[5] DfE Asbestos Steering Group meeting. Lees contemporaneous notes. 12 Sep 2012. Meeting Minister of State for Schools/AiS. Lees contemporaneous notes. 10 Jan 2013

[6] Letter Annette Brooke MP/ Lord Hill Property Data Survey Programme asbestos data from an IT perspective. 16 May 2012

[1] Assessment of asbestos management in schools Asbestos Testing and Consultancy Association 24 Jan 2010"atac "

[2] Press release list of schools inspected:

[3] Summary of enforcement action


[4] HSE Inspection of asbestos management in clasp and other system buildings 2007/2008. Annex 1 Inspection Findings – C onsolidated Divisional feedback . undated

[5] For example: South Gloucestershire council. Thurrock Council, Glasgow Council, Bedford council

[5] Doncaster Council

[5] Harrow

[6] Written Statement by the Welsh Government. Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills Asbestos in schools. 27 Nov 2012 Parliamentary debate Wales 27 Nov 12 P70 Link :

[1] Good Health and Safety for Everyone. Targeting and Reducing Inspections 21 Mar 2011 para 3 iii p 9

[2] HSE Head of Government, Defence and Education Unit Public Services Sector Operational Strategy Division. DfE Asbestos Steering Group 14 Jun 2012 Lees contemporaneous notes.

[1] HSC CAWR 2006 Work with materials containing asbestos ACOP para 17 p68. Personal correspondence HSE Gibson/Lees 1 Dec 2012

[2] Fibrous Materials in the Environment Institute for Environment and Health. P71

[3] High Court QBD Liverpool District. The Hon Mr Justice Nicol . Dianne Willmore and Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council 24 July 2009 Para 8, 57b . Supreme Court Judgment Sienkiewicz (Administratrix of the Estate of Enid Costello Deceased) (Respondent) v Greif (UK) Limited (Appellant) Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council (Appellant) v Willmore (Respondent) 9 March 2011

[4] Asbestos. Vol 1 Final report of the advisory committee. The risk to children. 1979 Para 112 P60

[5] DfEE AM on asbestos AB 20/17/02 D 2 Jun 1983

[6] Asbestos Risks of environmental and occupational exposure Health Council of the Netherlands 3 June 2010 para 8.2 P83

[7] Professor A. Burdorf/Lees personal correspondence 2 Dec 2012

[1] Asbestos in Schools The scale of the problem and the implications. 30 Oct 2011 P11-25

[2] DfE Asbestos S teering Group meeting contemporaneous notes Lees 14 Jun 2012

[1] Parliamentary written answer Schools asbestos. Ian Lavery MP/ Minister of State Nick Gibb MP 21 Mar 2012

[2] Insurance. See comment and parliamentary written answers: www. asbestosexposure schools. co. uk/ npaper links/ children uninsur able. htm also

[1] HSE Reducing Risks Protecting People 2001 p3

[1] AHERA US code: title 15,2643. EPA regulations Chapter 53. EPA Fact sheet AHERA 1986 Statement EPA Administrator 23 Oct 1986

[2] Meeting Minister of State for Schools/AiS Contemporaneous notes Lees 10 Jan 2013

[1] WATCH committee papers annex 3. WATCH committee minutes. 10 Nov 2009 paras 4.38 and Actions para 4.49 (iv) WATCH committee papers 23 Feb 2010 Annex 3: Update of published asbestos concentrations in buildings under normal use and occupation. [15] 27 Oct 2010

[2] See Asbestos in Schools. The Scale of the problem and the implications. AiS. Annex D p64.

[3] HSE Education Sector Briefing. HSE Head of Asbestos Policy. Contemporaneous notes Lees. 13 Dec 2006 . House of Lords written answer HL648 Baroness Quin/ Baroness Morgan of Drefelin 15 Dec 2009

[4] Late lessons from early warnings, science, precaution, innovation. European Environmental Agency Report No 1/2013  Vol 2 p6 Vol 1

[1] DfES Asbestos Briefing pack for meeting at the HSE 18 June 1998. Line to take. P7. DfES EF/09/94/04 Ministerial brief. PS/Mr Squire. Asbestos in schools. Meeting with Doug McAvoy 14 Dec 1994

[2] For example: Asbestos in schools. The scale of the problem and the implications. P 64

[3] Informing staff and parents following an asbestos incident in a school 15 Jul 2012

[4] AHERA US code: title 15,2643. EPA regulations Chapter 53. EPA Fact sheet AHERA 1986 Statement EPA Administrator 23 Oct 1986

Prepared 25th March 2013