The dangers of asbestos in schools

Recent reflection over a worrying case sees Craig Evans of UKATA offer his advice to schools on avoiding the damaging effects of asbestos

I read last week of Chris Wallace, a Devon man who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma: a terminal cancer widely associated with asbestos exposure. Mr Wallace was given a £275,000 pay-out by Devon County Council who were responsible for running the schools where he believes he was exposed to the lethal substance. 

Prior to asbestos being banned in the UK, it was a remarkably common building material. It is believed that 1.6million commercial buildings, including schools, may still contain the substance. 

It is understandable that, upon hearing cases like that of Mr Wallace, school leaders may explore the possibility of removing asbestos from their school. I would remind them to use a highly trained professional contractor with excellent credentials in order to ensure compliance with all current asbestos legislation. 

As well as being a legal requirement, managing asbestos in public buildings is critically important. Asbestos related diseases can affect people many years from the time of exposure and is often known as the ‘silent killer’ as the latency period can be anywhere between 15 to 60 years. Therefore children, teachers and school staff exposed to the fibres could be sentenced to future suffering with the possibility of a fatal disease being diagnosed. 

I am extremely concerned that we may see more cases like that of Mr Wallace in years to come if asbestos in schools is not managed properly. UKATA-approved training providers deliver some of the most intense, safety-focused asbestos management courses in the world and as such are in the best position to protect our children from this lethal substance. I would urge any head teacher or school leader who suspects asbestos to be present at their establishment to contact an asbestos management professional with a valid UKATA certificate to investigate.

Craig Evans is general manager of UKATA (The UK Asbestos Training Association)

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