Could Asbestos Be The New RAAC Crisis For UK Schools?

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The crumbling concrete crisis forced many schools around the UK to close or use alternative accommodation such as portable cabins at the start of the new school year. Many schools are still uncertain when or if they will ever be able to return to their usual buildings after reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was deemed to be unsafe.

The so-called crumbling concrete was widely used in schools and other public sector buildings between the 1950s and the 1990s, when it was considered to be a quick and affordable alternative to other more traditional building materials.

However, in many cases it has not been well maintained and is prone to become weakened by damp. Some of these buildings have been deemed to be at risk of collapse. The assessment and repair process is still ongoing, with around 700,000 students in the UK thought to be affected.

Construction Management reports that The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has criticised the Department for Education (DfE) for its lack of action on the matter, describing the situation as “shocking and disappointing.” It also said that there were “unacceptable numbers of pupils attending classes in poorly maintained or potentially unsafe buildings”.

Furthermore, RAAC is not the only structural crisis facing the UK’s schools, as it is thought that at least 1000 school buildings across the country contain asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive has recorded the deaths of around 11 teachers or ex-teachers from asbestos-related conditions every year since 2011.

The true number of affected schools might be even higher, as Edinburgh Live reports that in Scotland alone, 1,360 educational buildings contain asbestos. This is according to data gathered by Labour MSP Mark Griffin via a Freedom of Information request. Griffin is seeking to establish a Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council (SEIAC).

He commented: “It is terrifying for parents, teachers and children, that a quarter of our schools still have asbestos in them. The current Westminster benefit has created an enormous gender gap by ignoring the illness and disease women have experienced at work for decades, including the risks from asbestos.”


He added: “Their cancers and ill-health are dismissed as not being due to their workplaces, and it is not right they just don’t get a look in. With our new powers we can fix this and properly recognise the cancers from asbestos women face at work, day-in and day-out.

“It is vital this new benefit has women at its heart, with a gender-balanced council determined to start listening to women made ill at work.”

Phyllis Clark, director of the Action on Asbestos charity, said: “Asbestos exposure is still the biggest cause of all work-related deaths in the UK. It is wrong and misguided to think of it as something of the past. It is very much a problem of the here and now, and it is getting worse.”

The PAC report urges the UK government to take action to mitigate the negative effects for teachers and pupils who work and learn in unsafe buildings that are not able to be repaired due to the presence of asbestos.

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