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Exposure to asbestos in a school classroom – was the writing on the wall?

It has been revealed by a BBC investigation that a significant £10 million has been paid out to those who have suffered an illness as a result of exposure to asbestos in a school.


Most commonly associated with industrial buildings and environments, asbestos was in fact widely used in a wide range of buildings including hospitals, schools and houses, and was often used for its fireproof properties up until all forms of this mineral were banned in 1999.

As more headlines appear warning of the risks posed to teachers, pupils and other school staff, it is worth highlighting that asbestos is not dangerous if it is not disturbed. The National Union of Teachers is calling for more action quoting that 300 adults die each year due to being exposed to asbestos in a school.

The time that this substance does become a significant health risk is when large quantities of asbestos dust or fibres are released and inhaled. This may occur if an individual is either involved with, or works in close proximity to, work and repairs being carried out where asbestos material such as board or pipe lagging, is being drilled or sawed for example.

It is not a quick killer. For those who may have been put at risk of significant exposure, it takes between 30 – 40 years before the associated symptoms appear. There will usually be no tell-tale symptoms whatsoever until breathlessness, a persistent cough or wheezing start to appear.

It is important to seek medical advice when these symptoms arise, with the average age of those affected being in their 70’s. As the government pledges £23 billion to improve school buildings, care can be taken to minimise exposure now.

Any work involving the removal or disturbance of asbestos material should be carried out with precautions in place. Wearing a mask for example and ensuring the area is well ventilated can go some way to minimise the danger posed.

It may be some decades before asbestos is completely removed from school buildings. The present and future risk to those recently, or currently, working or attending a school is likely to be very minimal given the increased awareness of the potential risks.

It doesn’t always lead to death. Pleural thickening for example, where the layered membrane surrounding the lungs starts to thicken resulting in breathlessness, will cause great discomfort and decrease the quality of the individual’s life, but, will not lead to a death sentence.

Due to the popular use of asbestos in the 50’s and onwards until its eventual ban, it is predicted by the Health & Safety Executive that instances of related deaths and serious illnesses will continue at least for the next decade as the legacy of this dangerous substance continues.

For those who may now be worried that they may be at future risk following the media headlines, it may provide some reassurance that there is no risk posed by simply living or working in the presence of asbestos.

If you think you may have been around, and inhaled, significant amounts of asbestos dust or fibres, unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to predict nor prevent symptoms arising. There is also no current cure for asbestos related diseases such as asbestosis or mesothelioma; however, seeking medical advice as soon as symptoms arise is essential.

Individuals who do sadly fall ill due to asbestos exposure are entitled to compensation from the employer responsible for exposing them to this health risk – even in circumstances where a previously council run school has changed hands and become an academy.

Linder Myers’ occupational disease specialists have significant experience in these types of claims and are highly ranked in independent legal directory Chambers & Partners offering an empathetic, personal service.

Successfully securing compensation for individuals affected by asbestos exposure, the team are here to help. To see examples of some of our recently concluded cases, click here.

If your health has been significantly impacted by asbestos exposure, you can speak to a member of our team on 0161 835 8832. Alternatively, please email a summary of your potential claim and contact details to

Find out more about our Occupational Disease department

Written by Jon Andrews. Find out more about Jon here. 

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