Asbestos in Schools
Update 125
21 June 2012

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School children are uninsurable for asbestos exposure risks

Millions of school children are uninsurable against illness from exposure to asbestos at school. This brings into stark reality the risks to children from asbestos in the nation’s schools.  

The Department for Education (DfE) has been asked how any future claims will be met from those affected, and a series of parliamentary questions have also been tabled to try to establish the extent of the problem.

The Government has confirmed that in general academies and free schools cannot obtain insurance cover for pupils for asbestos exposure risks. This means that if a pupil is negligently exposed to asbestos at school and develops mesothelioma there will be no insurance cover for a claim they might make against the school.

Although local authorities are also unable to obtain public liability insurance to cover pupils for asbestos exposure risks, they self insure so that claims can be met. However, in most cases, academies and free schools do not have the resources to do so.

Academy Trusts are legally and financially responsible for their academy, consequently they are likely to be liable for any future claims from pupils.

In answer to a Parliamentary question the Schools Minister implied that in the absence of public liability insurance the governors’ liability insurance will meet any future claims. This is incorrect; governors’ liability insurance is not meant to be a catch-all insurance and will not normally provide cover for other uninsurable risks. (Parliamentary questions at attachment)

How many governors in academies are aware that they will be legally and financially liable for any future mesothelioma claims from their pupils?

In a subsequent Parliamentary answer it was made clear that the Secretary of State would not be legally responsible for meeting any claim, and neither is he bound by the funding agreement to compensate an academy. (See attachment)

The Minister has said, however, that he would look at any claims on a case by case basis and ensure that the Academy remained financially secure and would be able to continue educating its pupils.

Some academies have been told that they have full public liability insurance to cover pupils for asbestos exposure risks.However an expert has confirmed that in general the wording in policies fails to give that cover.

The DfE acknowledge that more than 75% of schools contain asbestos. 1,805 schools have presently converted to academies and although the status of the school has changed, in most cases the school buildings have not. Therefore many academies contain asbestos.  This is therefore a major problem that affects thousands of children and large numbers of unsuspecting governors.

(Update 6 Dec 2013) - Following a debate on the lack of of insurance cover in the HofC an update on the lack of cover for children has been sent to the Government, officials, Ministers and MPs.

Michael Lees
21st June 2012


  • On 9th March 2011 the Supreme Court upheld the judgement that Dianne Willmore had been negligently exposed to asbestos when she was a pupil at school. Dianne died aged 49 of mesothelioma.

Her solicitor, Ruth Davies, said about the lack of insurance in academies:  “This is a truly worrying situation. If a pupil is exposed and develops asbestos cancer 30 or 40 years later, when they are in their prime of life, there is no one to pay compensation to them or their families. This leaves a hole in the legal system which must be remedied.”

  • Tony Whitston, the Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Forum stated: “The scandal of untraced employer liability insurance, which has denied compensation to thousands of asbestos victims for many decades, is at last to be addressed in proposals to be announced by the Government in July.

Given the Government's intention to remedy the lamentable failings in employer liability insurance it is simply incredible that the Government should now permit a situation to occur where public liability insurance, or other insurance, is unobtainable for the asbestos disease, mesothelioma, for pupils who may develop the disease as a result of exposure to asbestos amidst the crumbling fabric of dilapidated schools.”  

  • Julie Winn the chair of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee stated:  “This is potentially a very serious loop hole for mesothelioma victims. Things can and do go wrong when it comes to asbestos management even with good systems in place. Employers must provide protection for their employees, in case things go wrong, by way of employer’s liability insurance. Surely children learning in our nations’ schools should also be afforded this fundamental protection? This issue must be properly investigated and if necessary remedied. JUAC will be looking closely at this issue.” 
  • Michael Lees, a founder member of the Asbestos in Schools Group said:  “If the risks from asbestos to children in schools are so great that they are uninsurable, then it should send a very strong message to the government that there is no place for asbestos in our schools.”

3. Notes

  • There are no statistics that show how many children have been exposed to asbestos at school and have developed the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. In the USA their best estimate was that nine children would subsequently die for each teacher and support staff death from asbestos exposure at school. (1)  In the UK that would equate to more than 2,000 subsequent children’s deaths.

  • A Medical Research Council (MRC) report examined the extent, type and location of asbestos in schools and concluded:  “It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that the entire school population has been exposed to asbestos in school buildings.” (2)
  • Expert medical opinion and the courts accept that “Mesothelioma can occur after low level asbestos exposure and there is no threshold dose of asbestos below which there is no risk.” (3)

  • An HSE case control study concluded “The British mesothelioma death–rate is now the highest in the world.(4)
  • HSE stated in relation to pupils’ asbestos exposure at school “Due to their physical immaturity they are at greater risk of suffering from asbestos related disease than adults, and will live longer for any disease to develop.” (5)

  • More than 228 school teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980. 140 school teachers died of mesothelioma in the ten year period 1999 to 2008. (6)
  • Latencies for mesothelioma from first exposure to first symptoms have been recorded from less than 10 years to over 60 years, and on average the latency is 30-40 years.(7)  Consequently a child exposed to asbestos at school will die many years later and their death will be recorded under whatever occupation they had at the time. There are therefore no statistics of the number of pupils who have died from asbestos at school.
  • For background information see:  

Asbestos in schools. The scale of the problem and the implications

 A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group “Asbestos in schools- the need for action”  exposed the level of danger from asbestos in Britain’s schools. In launching the report, Jim Sheridan MP, Chair of the All-Party Group said “This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust. We need both far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses and a programme for its phased removal......”


(1) American Academy of Pediatrics Asbestos Exposure in schools  Pediatrics vol 79, no 2 Feb 1987 p301- 305 Reaffirmed May 1994 . EPA Support document for the proposed rule on friable asbestos-containing materials in school buildings EPA report 560/12-80-003 p92
(2) Fibrous Materials in the Environment Institute for Environment and Health. P72 and p75 . 1997
(3) High Court QBD Liverpool District. The Hon Mr Justice Nicol . Dianne Willmore and Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council 24 July 2009  Para 4  .
(4) HSE Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in Britain. 2009 . IMIG Congress  Abstract 25-27 Sep 2008
(5) HSE paper LAFORUM/04 Asbestos management in schools. 23 Nov 2004.
(6) HSE Mesothelioma occupational statistics: Male and female deaths aged 16-74 1980-2000 Table 3,4 Southampton Occupation Group. 5 year time period 1980-2000 excluding 1981. E-mail HSE Statistics Unit/Lees 15 Jul 2008. Mesothelioma deaths in the education sector for males and females 2001-2005. HSE Mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain: Analyses by Geographical area and occupation 2005 Tables 11, 13  (2002-2005). HSE Epidemiology Unit CSAG, table 0977/Lees 2 Mar 2011 HSE Epidemiology Unit, table 0925./Lees+ 25 Feb 2011
(7)HSE RR728 Projection of mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain p1 2009

4. Parliamentary Questions and Answers from Hansard are at the attachment to this email


Authoritative research can be seen at; that is closely referenced with sources, has a search facility so you can find your specific interest and can be quoted. You can also contact us as shown below




1. School children are uninsurable for asbestos exposure risks
2. Quotes from authoritative sources
3. Background notes and references
4. Hansard quotes from Parliamentary Questions


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