A Mesothelioma Bill is to be placed before Parliament which, if passed, would enable people suffering illness due to exposure to asbestos to make a compensation claim.
The Bill was outlined as part of last week’s Queen’s Speech and will establish a payment scheme for people, including teachers, who cannot trace their employer or their employer’s insurance company, where the employer was responsible for the asbestos exposure.
More than 140 teachers in the UK have died from asbestos-related diseases, including the cancer mesothelioma, in the past 10 years as well as an unknown number of cleaners, administration staff and caretakers, according to a report last year by All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety (APPG).
Because of the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases, it is difficult to know how many children might have been affected by exposure at their school.
However, research from America has previously estimated that for every teacher that dies from asbestos-related disease, nine children will die. Furthermore, in March the Education Select Committee heard evidence that millions of school staff and pupils could have been exposed to asbestos over the decades.
It is thought there are asbestos-containing materials in 75 per cent of the UK’s schools, and the APPG report called for the government to set up a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools – with priority being given to the most dangerous or damaged.
However, the Department for Education’s policy, based on advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), has always been to manage, not remove, existing asbestos in schools if it is not disturbed or damaged.
Under the proposals unveiled this week, anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma from July 25, 2012, will be able to make a claim, with the scheme to be funded by a levy on insurance companies.
The move has been welcomed by teachers, but the government has been urged to reconsider its position on asbestos removal.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “This announcement is welcome in that it is at least as sign that historic exposure to asbestos is at last being taken seriously. We should also be remembering that many school buildings still contain asbestos and leave pupils and those that teach and otherwise work with them at risk of contracting this terrible disease.
"Steps need to be taken to obviate this risk for the future through a programme of asbestos removal.”