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Part of "Information on asbestos in schools"

Original statement

In my original paper Asbestos Exposure in Schools (14th June 2004) I said that “A disproportionate number of female primary school teachers die from mesothelioma.” This statement was based on the HSE occupational mesothelioma statistics.

Flawed statements from Minister and HSE

HSE statistics misclassify teachers On reading this statement the HSE Statistics Branch wrote to me saying that their teacher statistics are inaccurate. They stated that this is because some death certificates list the occupation as school teacher, but do not specify whether the person was a primary or secondary teacher. Consequently the female deaths are arbitarily added to the primary teacher totals and male deaths are added to the secondary total 138. The HSE have not stated how many death certificates this has involved.

Minister of State for Schools wrote to the General Secretary of the NUT stating: “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.” The HSE Head of Asbestos Policy 139 also wrote to me and said that my statement was not borne out by facts. In addition he wrote to the NUT and the Department of Education reiterating the same opinion.

The Flaws

Misleading impression The HSE Head of Asbestos Policy and the Minister’s statements are pedantically correct but they are very misleading. The whole essence of the statistics is that in an apparently safe occupation too many teachers are dying from asbestos exposures.

HSE admit errors in their calculations After receiving my first paper the HSE Statistics Branch e-mailed the DfES and the Head of Asbestos Policy with arguments to prove my statement wrong and included their calculations concerning teachers deaths to prove their point 141. There were a series of fundamental errors in their calculations, which would have had an effect on their conclusions. The Statistics Branch subsequently accepted that they had made those errors 142. It must be presumed that the HSE, and the Minister had in part based their conclusions on these flawed Statistics Branch calculations.

My minor error corrected

I had also made an error in teacher numbers in my initial calculations as I had used the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) figures for part time and occasional teachers rather than using the actual headcount. I therefore recalculated my figures. This recalculation did not make a significant difference.

Wording of my statement amended. The fact that the HSE have cast doubts on the accuracy of their statistics which allocate teachers as primary or secondary, has made me alter the wording of my statement, although my basic supposition remains the same

The final statement

As the Minister for Schools and the HSE Head of Asbestos Policy dismissed my original statement I have re-examined the evidence and all the available statistics and, having compared school teachers with other occupations, make the following conclusions:

“The number of deaths from mesothelioma among school teachers is far higher than one should expect in what appears to be a low risk occupation.”

“A disproportionate number of female school teachers die from mesothelioma"



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