Asbestos is still causing problems all over the UK, despite a total ban on the use of asbestos containing materials of all types in 1999. The UK government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in particular has campaigned hard to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos in order to prevent a new generation getting caught in the unforgiving net of this insidious substance.
However, this still means that any building constructed before the year 2000 may still contain asbestos or asbestos containing materials (ACMs). With so many of our schools here in the UK falling into disrepair, in June of 2013 the Treasury pledged an extra £10 billion for school repairs in England alone. The scheme aims to rebuild some of the schools which are in the poorest condition with an extra £1.3 billion ring-fenced for the reconstruction works.
Schools which are rebuilt from scratch will provide our children with centres of learning which are brand new and (hopefully) well equipped. Learning in a modern building with state of the art equipment is an advantage that all of our children should enjoy – the kids learn more easily because morale is always higher in bright, clean, modern buildings that are fit for purpose. However, the schools which are due to be refurbished, repaired or remodelled will present a particular problem due to asbestos.
It was recently reported that almost half of the schools in Bradford still contain potentially deadly asbestos. Head teachers across Calderdale in Yorkshire have been warned about the dangers of uncovering asbestos in school buildings after a recent council survey discovered deficiencies in procedures relating to council buildings and schools.
In Wales Cwmcarn High School was closed in October 2012 due to fears that pupils and staff could be at risk from airborne particles of amosite asbestos . Lessons were moved to a temporary base in neighbouring Ebbw Vale while asbestos removal work was carried out on the school. Now that the school has been made safe, staff and pupils are looking forward to returning to the former premises – however, this process was delayed following a tragic accident in which a 26 year old contractor performing asbestos removal work was electrocuted and killed and the subsequent investigation into his death was carried out.
An ex school employee (a former member of non teaching staff) is currently seeking damages for personal injury following an asbestosis diagnosis as a result of harmful levels of asbestos in three schools in central Somerset. Councils in Teesside are reported to have set aside millions to compensate workers who were exposed to asbestos.
All of these stories demonstrate that asbestos is still a problem in the UK, especially in our schools and public buildings. Despite the 1999 total ban on the use of asbestos in the UK, it seems that we will be paying the price for our use of asbestos for many years to come.