Recent figures released by local Education boards in Northern Ireland confirm that 876 school buildings, including 61 nursery schools, contain asbestos.
In 2011 the Department of Education revealed that in its “best estimate”, 75% of school buildings across the UK contain asbestos. The Belfast Telegraph has now complied figures from documents released by 5 Education Boards in Northern Ireland, in response to Freedom of Information requests, and has found that asbestos is contained in 876 schools across the province, including 61 nursery schools.
Asbestos was used extensively in building between the 1950sand 1980s mainly for fireproofing and insulation. The Department of Health has said that asbestos which has not been disturbed or damaged does not pose a significant health risk. However, if asbestos is damaged, the airborne fibres can cause serious and potentially fatal diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. In a document addressing frequently asked questions on this matter, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland state that many schools built before 2000 will contain some form of asbestos. Although Teachers and pupils are unlikely to be at risk in the course of their normal activities, it is recommended that they do not undertake any activities which might damage asbestos containing materials e.g. tacking/pinning work to ceiling tiles, or insulation board.
However, School caretakers have been identified as a group particularly at risk due to the nature of their role carrying out tasks such as drilling and general repair work. The Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012 identifies those responsible for managing asbestos in all non-domestic premises as the ‘dutyholder’. In most schools this will be the Employer, which in the majority of cases will be Education and Library Boards or the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).
According to the Health and Safety Executive, inhaling asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK - accounting for 4,000 deaths per year. The Asbestos Leafletpublished by the HSENI informs of the dangers of working with Asbestos and the steps which can be taken to minimise the risks of exposure. This guidance is addressed to electricians, plumbers, joiners, plasterers, heating and ventilation engineers, and those working in similar trades.
If you or a family member have been affected by asbestos exposure in a school or work environment, it important that you seek legal advice at an early stage.