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(Part of "Asbestos Policy Suggested Improvements")



America Estimated Children’s Deaths and gave a Proportionate Response Great Britain No Estimate and no Action.

So that a proportionate response can be given it is important to assess the risk. The risk is best assessed from making an estimate of how many teachers and children are exposed to asbestos at school and then estimating how many will die as a result.

Over twenty years ago America collected data on the extent and type of asbestos in their schools and gave an estimate of their teachers’ and children’s deaths. As schools became safer because of improvements in asbestos management, they were able to reassess the risk and revise the estimates. Because of this, the scale of the problem was realised and it was possible to give a proportionate response. Priorities were set, far-reaching laws were introduced and resources were allocated. In addition the success of the measures were continuously monitored and corrected by regular inspections, and by a policy of openness. Only because the risk had been assessed in the first place was it was possible to implement the correct measures to ensure that schools would manage their asbestos effectively.

In Britain it is difficult to make a prediction of deaths based on possible exposure levels because the HSE has not assessed the amount of asbestos in schools and therefore cannot use the same methodology as the Americans. In the absence of a figure that gives the numbers of deaths, the scale of the asbestos problem in schools cannot be clearly identified and it is impossible to give a proportionate response.

It is even possible to deny there is a problem

HSE Denial of Problem The HSE and the Minister say:

"Statistics gathered by HSE show that the mortality rate for female teachers is broadly in line with the average for the whole of the working female population. ie there is no higher risk for female primary school teachers.”

This is, at best, a misleading statement. The Proportional Mortality Ratio is a means of comparing deaths between one occupation and another. It is assessed from all the occupations which include the high risk occupations. An “Average” number of deaths is when the statistical number of “Expected deaths” is the same as the actual or “Observed” number of deaths. The HSE statistics branch commented on the teachers’ deaths as follows:

“Perhaps in this case the term “expected” is unfortunate because it could give the impression that if the observed deaths are in line with the expected deaths then there is no risk.”

“The PMR of 100 (average, expected) does not indicate that there is no risk…..Even if the proportion of mesothelioma deaths among teachers was in line with the proportion of females that are teachers, one could still draw the conclusion that there are too many deaths among a group which are supposed to have had very little asbestos exposure.”

Statistics show that the number of female teachers’ deaths is three times more than one would expect in a profession with little or no asbestos exposure. The number of deaths among male teachers is ten times greater than expected. Teaching and nursing are both professions where one would expect little or no asbestos exposure. A comparison of female teachers with female nurses shows that a disproportionate number of teachers die from asbestos exposure, indeed female teachers are twice as likely to die from asbestos exposure as female nurses. This unexpectedly high and disproportionate number of deaths indicates that teachers have been exposed to significant levels of asbestos.

(A more detailed account is given in my paper Asbestos in schools 30 Jul 05)

Approximate Estimate of Children’s Deaths Illustrates the Scale of the Problem

The HSE say: "Very few people in schools are exposed. There may be a lot of ACMs in some school buildings but this does not mean anyone is, necessarily exposed.”

This statement is also misleading. It is true that there is a lot of ACMs in schools, but the HSE have never assessed the extent of that asbestos and have not estimated the number of people exposed.

The Minister and the HSE use an “Average” PMR amongst female teachers to claim there is no asbestos problem. It would appear that the opposite is true.

The HSE were asked to make an estimate of children’s deaths, but they have not done so. In its absence the only course of action is to offer an estimate based on known statistics, reasoned argument and logic. The result gives a very rough idea of the scale of the problem. In a ten year period 900 people could die from asbestos exposure they experienced as a child at school. The basis for this estimate is as follows:

Teachers’ Deaths.

Teachers’ deaths from mesothelioma are given in statistics. A calculation can be made that gives a reasonable idea of children’s deaths, by making a direct mathematical extrapolation from their teachers’ deaths. For mathematical simplicity it is based on the presumption that children and teachers have been exposed at the same levels and are as liable as each other to develop mesothelioma.

In 2004 there were about 800,000 teachers.

In order to avoid arguments over statistics the extrapolation is also based solely on numbers of qualified school teachers. Teachers in higher education, education assistants and non qualified teachers are excluded. (Amongst all the teaching groups 145 died between 1991-2000)

There were 79 deaths of qualified teachers in the ten year period between 1991-2000.

Children’s Deaths

Everybody attends school for at least ten years of their life.

In 2004 there were approximately 9,000,000 children in primary and secondary schools. A direct extrapolation between teachers’ deaths and children’s deaths gives a figure of 900 children who will die over a ten year period as a result of asbestos exposure they experienced at school.

Figure Gives Informed Estimate of the Scale of the Problem.

The direct mathematical extrapolation between teachers and children gives a very rough idea of the scale of the problem. There are various reasons that the actual number of deaths is likely to be greater but it is beyond the scope of this paper to detail those reasons. The statistics are given and the arguments are addressed in my paper “Asbestos in schools” 30 July 2005.

Official Estimate is Essential

The extrapolated number of deaths amongst children is not meant to be a definitive figure. It is given as a demonstration that it is possible to derive a figure. It is also given to show that there is a problem and that the likely number of deaths is high. An official estimate is essential.



A 1980s study by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated how many staff and children could die because of asbestos exposure at school. It was because of these estimates that stringent laws were introduced to manage asbestos in schools. (Emergency Hazards Response Act (EHRA)

They estimated that more than 8,500 schools contained friable asbestos, and 250,000 staff and 3,000,000 pupils could be potentially exposed.

Based on these figures they estimated that:

“A total of approximately 100 to 7,000 premature deaths are anticipated to occur as a result of exposure to prevalent concentrations of asbestos in schools containing friable asbestos materials over the next 30 years. The most reasonable estimate is approximately 1,000 premature deaths. About 90% of these deaths are expected to occur among persons exposed as schoolchildren.”

(Note: This estimate was based on airborne fibre levels.)

Four times as many schools found to contain asbestos.

Surveys were carried out in primary and secondary schools, and by 1984 sufficient information was available from the surveys to reassess the extent of the problem. The results showed that about four times as many schools contained asbestos than had been originally presumed and that five times as many pupils were at risk. 34,800 schools contained friable asbestos potentially exposing an estimated 15,000,000 pupils and 1,400,000 staff.

Estimates gave a scale of the problem. Laws introduced.

Because data had been collected and the scale of the problem had been estimated, the Emergency Response Act became law and staff and children were protected from the dangers of asbestos.


In America data has been collected and the American Government gave an estimate of their children’s deaths. Because of this far reaching laws were introduced to ensure that asbestos was managed effectively in their schools. Twenty years ago they collected and analysed statistics, made estimates of children’s deaths and then took action. They set priorities and allocated resources in proportion to the risk.

In Great Britain there are insufficient statistics and no official estimates that give our children’s level of exposure, or the likely numbers of deaths resulting from that exposure.

The extrapolated figure for children’s deaths points to a high level of risk that should result in urgent action being taken. But no official estimate has been given, consequently no action has been taken. It is essential that an official, soundly based, estimate of children’s deaths is made. This should be based on both past exposure and from an analysis of current asbestos condition in schools. Then there can be a proportionate response.


Government priorities and resources are based proportionately on risk:

The HSE’s policy is:

“HSE has a responsibility to ensure that schools understand that any actions that they take to manage asbestos should be in proportion to the level of risk.”

The flaw in that policy is that, as there are no robust statistics collected by the HSE, and there is no official estimate of children’s deaths, there is no official measure of the level of risk. It is therefore impossible for schools, LEAs, the HSE, DfES or the Government to produce a proportionate response – or indeed any informed, effective response.

It is even possible, with skilful use of words, to deny there is a problem.


HSE figures, based on teachers’ deaths, have been incorrectly used to deny there is an asbestos problem in schools. The very opposite is true, for the deaths of teachers illustrate that an unexpected and disproportionate number of them are dying from asbestos exposure. They also illustrate that children are being exposed to asbestos at school and are dying later in life because of it. There is therefore a very considerable problem.

The Americans estimated the risk and implemented proportional measures.

In this country as there are no official estimates on which to assess risk, and no data on which to set a standard to measure improvements, no particular priority has been given to schools. PSA targets cannot be met, and PSA priorities are inevitably “Refocused” on other initiatives where the level of risk is clearly defined and improvements can be measured.

Because no action has been taken to identify the scale of the problem insufficient resources have been allocated to solve it.

Only once a proper assessment is made, and the true scale of the problem of asbestos in our schools is made public knowledge, will the HSE, the DfES and the Government give a proportionate response. Only then will our teachers and children be safe.

Please can you ask the Minister for an official estimate of the number of people who have died, and are likely to die in the future, from asbestos exposure they experienced when they were a child at school.



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