Asbestos awareness of the continued health risks likely to be posed by the presence of chrysotile white asbestos in schools has long been a major cause for urgent concern.

Official Government policy maintains, “ … if asbestos is in good condition and not likely to be disturbed, it is safer to leave it in place and manage it than attempt to remove”.

However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found that many schools are still not effectively or safely managing their asbestos because of “confusion over roles and responsibilities”.

Compliance checks carried out at 164 voluntary aided and foundation schools and academies between November 2010 and June 2011 found a 17 per cent failure rate.

According to HSE, “Most schools were able to demonstrate good levels of awareness and compliance with the asbestos regulations …” However, 28 out of the 164 schools inspected had inadequate management plans, were unable to produce and show inspectors management plans, and failed to provide adequate training to staff .

Between 1945 and 1975, over 14,000 schools were constructed, of which, at least 50 per cent were System-built with materials made from amosite, crocidolite and chrysotile asbestos until a ban was enforced by the Control of Asbestos Regulations from the mid 1980s.

White chrysotile, considered a less toxic but still potentially dangerous material was still in use in insulating board, surface coatings and cement products until prohibited from 1992 onwards.

The dangers of exposure to asbestos and the inhaling of the deadly fibre dust particles, which remain permanently embedded in the pleural linings, almost always lead to the development of asbestosis diseases or the incurable malignant cancer, mesothelioma.

However, the long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years means that the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms tend to only appear at a very advanced stage of the disease and survival rates are often within months of confirmed diagnosis.

Mesothelioma deaths between 1980 and 2005 were 272, which included both school teachers and college lecturers. The fatality figures from 2001 to 2005 were 103 which also included teaching assistants, childcare, and those working in higher education. It is also known that mesothelioma has claimed the lives of school caretakers, cooks, cleaners and school secretaries.

The HSE have not said that they have experienced any schools to be in an unstable position with asbestos management and exposure and, “ …it was important to stress that asbestos, which is properly managed, remains undamaged and is not disturbed is not a cause for concern”

A critical reason for possessing full knowledge of asbestos locations and a full management plan is to prevent the risk of tradesmen or general maintenance workers disturbing asbestos, which should only be handled by a licensed contractor in compliance with the legal requirements.