Recently an all party group of MPs has called for a scheme to remove asbestos from UK schools. Apparently almost 75% of schools have some asbestos within their premises. In recent times, more than 140 teachers have died from Mesothelioma, the asbestos related cancer. Worryingly, an American study has found that for every death of a teacher from an asbestos related illness, 9 children will die. The vulnerability of children is greater because they do, of course, have longer to live than adult teachers and, therefore, more time to develop diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos fibres.
Whilst the HSE’s expert advice is that “if asbestos is not disturbed or damaged, then it is safer to leave it in situ, with strong systems in place to contain and monitor it” the concern is that at some stage the asbestos will be disturbed. This was perhaps best, and most sadly, demonstrated in the recent case of Mrs Willmore. Diane Willmore died aged 49, having been exposed to asbestos fibres whilst a pupil at school in Knowsley from 1972 to 1979. Her exposure in brief was from the following:-
1. From walking along a corridor at the school, on which work was being done to the ceiling in the replacement of asbestos ceiling tiles.
2. From damage to similar ceiling tiles by the misbehaviour of pupils within the girl’s toilets in the junior block.
3. Damage to ceiling tiles within classrooms, where bags, school jackets etc were placed to hide them from other pupils.
Sadly such mild exposure to asbestos fibres resulted in her contraction of the fatal condition of Mesothelioma, some 30 years later.
What is perhaps most regrettable in her particular case is that she died the day after the decision of the Court of Appeal finding in her favour. The last few months of anyones life should not be overwhelmed by involvement in litigation.