Schools and hospitals are the target of new asbestos safety concerns in the United Kingdom after new data was released that showed close to 150 health and education workers had died from asbestos-related cancers in recent years.
Per official data, 147 deaths among health and education workers since 2017 have been attributed to asbestos-related workplace exposure, although experts believe that figure is significantly underestimated because of the way that profession is recorded on death certificates in the UK.
Ninety-four education workers and 53 healthcare workers died of mesothelioma, according to the Office for National Statistics analysis of death certificate data.
The country’s beleaguered health system is under further criticism over the management of asbestos concerns in sites across the country, along with growing complaints from headteachers over the state of schools. Both sectors have been the subject of significant austerity measures since 2010.
The current UK government is under pressure from Labour to release what is currently secret data relating to the state of school buildings. Last year, the Observer revealed that some school buildings were a ‘risk to life’ due to their state of disrepair.
Last year, the British safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, launched a program of inspections to determine how schools are managing the risks from asbestos. Statisticians who inspected the safety data relating to asbestos in schools noted that the rate of mesothelioma deaths “borders on statistical significance” among teachers born between 1955 and 1974.
Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said that the continuing issue with asbestos could still be leading to unnecessary deaths. “These devastating figures show the tragic human cost of years of under-investment in our school and hospital buildings,” she said. “No teacher or nurse should have to put their health at risk when they turn up to work each day.
“The government should be acting urgently to identify and remove asbestos from high-risk areas such as corridors and stairwells. Instead, schools are having to skip routine maintenance to balance the books. Each crumbling school and hospital stands as a concrete sign of years of Conservative neglect of our public services.”
A government spokesperson said: “We take the health and safety of those who work in the public sector incredibly seriously. All local authorities, governing bodies and academy trusts should have robust plans in place to manage asbestos in school buildings effectively. To support schools, we have allocated over £15bn for essential maintenance and improvements, including the removal of asbestos, and are also rebuilding or significantly refurbishing 500 buildings over the next decade.
“On top of this, we provided £4.2bn capital last financial year for the NHS to support local priorities, including to maintain and refurbish their premises – plus a further £8.4bn will be available over this and the next financial year.”