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School children exposed to asbestos

The dangers of asbestos are so well known that you would think there would be no one reckless enough to expose anyone to the deadly substance … let alone children.

Not so!

Worryingly, two recent cases investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have highlighted that school children are still being put at risk.

In one incident, Kent County Council was fined £200,000 after an environmental health inspector, who was at a school on a routine food inspection, saw what he thought was asbestos rope hanging from the ceiling. An investigation found that the caretaker had disturbed an asbestos flue and gasket rope when he had removed a steriliser unit around 18 months previously. Neither the caretaker nor the head teacher had any training in handling asbestos.

Canterbury Crown Court found that the council had failed to prevent exposure to asbestos and also failed to provide suitable training to those likely to be exposed to asbestos while working.

The HSE is also investigating two UK laboratory supply companies after being made aware that gauze mats they have been supplying to schools and colleges for use with Bunsen burners contain asbestos.

A HSE representative commented: “While we assess the overall risk to be low, we have taken swift action. We have ensured that both of the supply companies concerned immediately ceased supply of the gauze mats.” The HSE is now providing cautionary advice to schools on how the mats should be disposed of safely.

Diane Parker, partner and head of Atherton Godfrey’s personal injury department commented on the cases: “It beggars belief that despite the widespread publicity around the potentially fatal consequences of inhaling asbestos fibres, children have been put at risk, especially while at school, which should be a place of safety.

Asbestos related diseases can take as long as 50 years to be diagnosed; we are still receiving compensation claims from elderly railway workers who were exposed to asbestos in the 50’s and 60’s.”

Author: Gail Harris