The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said the scale of asbestos in schools is “deeply worrying” and urged schools with asbestos in their buildings to ensure they manage it effectively in order to prevent staff and students from contracting incurable cancers like mesothelioma.

The warning from the global body for workplace health and safety professionals comes as the scale of the issue of asbestos in the England’s school buildings has been brought fully into focus by results from the Department for Education’s Asbestos Management Assurance Process.

Of nearly 25,000 English schools and academies, 19,522 responded to the Process, with 676 referred to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) because they haven’t provided enough evidence that they are “managing asbestos in line with regulatory requirements”.

At least 5000 people die every year from cancer caused by asbestos exposure at work, including teachers and others exposed in schools.

While asbestos has been banned in Britain since November 1999, it can still be found in hundreds of thousands of buildings constructed prior to this date.

Fiona Riley, Chair of the IOSH Education Group, said, “It is deeply worrying that so many schools and academies have failed to provide sufficient evidence that they are properly managing asbestos.

“It is equally concerning that a huge number of schools and academies, about a quarter, have not responded to this request …

“It is imperative that schools and academies know if asbestos is present in their buildings and, if it is, have a robust management plan in place to ensure staff and students are not exposed to it.”

Lucie Stephens, whose mother died from mesothelioma, is calling for asbestos to be removed from all school buildings. Sue Stephens, a teacher for 30 years, died in 2016 aged 68.

She said, “I’m delighted that the Department for Education has finally undertaken work to understand the extent of asbestos in our schools. It is long, long overdue.”

Last reviewed 11 July 2019