FOI requests reveal serious failings in asbestos management

2nd December 2016

The continuing presence of asbestos in our schools is a scandal, and the shocking lack of consistency across different local authority areas, revealed in responses to recent Freedom of Information requests, should set alarm bells ringing across central and local government.

Figures released today as a result of Freedom of Information requests submitted by Lucie Stephens and BBC Yorkshire to all LAs in England and Wales, paint a disturbing picture of complacency, evasion of responsibility and lack of knowledge. Lucie’s mother, Sue Stephens, died of mesothelioma in June this year and wanted the removal of asbestos from schools to be her legacy.

The figures reveal great variation in the management of asbestos, with some LAs claiming not to know how many of their schools contain asbestos, some withholding the information and others stating that full responsibility lies with schools themselves.  There were 99 reported incidents of asbestos exposure in school premises between 2011 and 2016 (likely to be a massive understatement as these are just known potential exposure incidents).  220 school employees/former employees and former pupils have pursued a claim for compensation between 2006 and 2016 this time with over £10 million being paid out.

Commenting on the situation, John McClean, Chair of JUAC and Secretariat of the Asbestos in Schools group said:

‘What this information reveals is that the Government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools is simply not working and is putting children and staff at risk.  We call upon the Government to:

  • undertake a national audit of asbestos in schools;
  • set out a long term strategy for the removal of asbestos from schools; and
  • ensure that the Health and Safety Executive has the funding it needs to inspect schools.’

Notes

There are 173 Local Education Authorities in England and Wales. Between 7th September and 21st November 2016 FOI’s have been submitted to all of them asking the following questions;

  • The names of the schools in your county that contain asbestos.
  • The date and outcome of the last independent audit or inspection of each of these schools Asbestos Management Plans.
  • The details of any reported incidents of asbestos exposure in these schools between 2011 and 2016.
  • Details of any improvement or prohibition notice served or guidance issued by the HSE in relation to the management of asbestos in schools in your county in the last 5 years.
  • The number of school employees (existing and retired staff to include teaching staff, school support staff and caretakers, etc) and ex-pupils that have pursued a claim against you for exposure to asbestos within a school in your county.
  • The number of these claims that have been settled.
  • The amount of money that has been paid in settlement of these claims (with and without your authority accepting responsibility).

Contact:
John McClean – Chair
John.mcclean55@btinternet.com

The Asbestos in Schools Group
 
The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) is a campaigning organisation with an overall aim of making schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. AiS is non-party political and is chaired by Rachel Reeves MP.

Contact:
John McClean, Secretariat
john.mcclean55@btinternet.com

Right to Know Asbestos in Schools Wales

Contact:
Cenric Clement Evans
Cenric.clement-evans@new-law.co.uk