Figures reveal toll of asbestos in schools

From teaching assistants to teachers to pupils, asbestos in schools is a killer and cuts to school funding can only make the situation worse

Cuts to school funding have already cost lives and are risking many more, says UNISON today, as we head into next week’s European Health and Safety Week.

A recent Freedom of Information request by the Joint Union Asbestos Committee revealed that at least 335 primary and secondary school teachers died of mesothelioma in Britain between 1980 and 2015, along with eight school secretaries, eight nursery nurses, 18 school midday assistants and 24 teaching assistants between 2003 and 2015.

The statistics are recorded under occupation, so it is impossible to know how many former pupils have died too, although the US Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that, for every teacher and support staff death from mesothelioma, nine former pupils will later die from this particularly dangerous cancer that is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “The cuts in schools budgets and the fragmentation of the school system have undermined how health and safety risks such as asbestos are managed.

“In addition, the cuts in the schools building programme mean that old, asbestos ridden and poorly maintained buildings continue to be used to teach our children putting them and staff at risk.”

Next week also includes Wednesday’s TUC National Inspection Day. UNISON is encouraging safety reps to consider whether workplaces are healthy for all ages.

These mesothelioma statistics are a timely reminder of the real cost that cutting maintenance and healthy and safety can have across the ages.