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More than 250 public buildings across 20 of the largest UK councils had asbestos removed in the past year

More than 250 public buildings across 20 of the largest UK councils had asbestos removed in the past year
  • Workplace Illness Lawyers At Irwin Mitchell Welcome Efforts But Renew Call For Government To Do More

  • Law Firm Writes To Secretary Of State For Work and Pensions Demanding A Rethink Of Their Approach To Asbestos In Public Buildings

  • Schools Make Up Large Percentage Of Removals

More Than £1million Spent On Removal Works

Asbestos was removed from more than 250 public buildings across 20 of the UK’s highest populated local authorities in the last financial year, law firm Irwin Mitchell can reveal.


The legal experts, who support clients affected by exposure to asbestos, previously published data from the councils confirming the number of public buildings containing the hazardous substance.


The total number at the time was 4,533, according to data obtained by Irwin Mitchell through the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). The data, for the financial years 2017/18 to 2021/22, was released last April after the Government rejected a 40-year deadline recommended by MPs and the Work and Pensions Select Committee for the removal of asbestos from the estimated 300,000 public and commercial buildings which still contain it.


Now, one year on, updated information requested by the law firm from the same 20 councils reveals that 258 public buildings had asbestos removed in the last 12 months. This compares to 291 removals undertaken in the five previous years.


The data includes a large number of schools, as well as museums, community centres, leisure facilities and libraries, among others.


Expert asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have cautiously welcomed the development. However, they are calling for more to be done to further eradicate the dangerous material, which can lead to those exposed developing mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen, or chronic and progressive lung diseases such as asbestosis.


Despite last year’s campaign activity leading to a Parliamentary debate and commendation from the Trades Union Congress, the Government has yet to respond with any proposed action.  As a result, as part of its ongoing campaign, Irwin Mitchell is also writing to the Rt Hon Mel Stride MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, calling on the Government to rethink its previous rejection of the 40 year deadline proposed by the Work and Pensions Committee.


Adrian Budgen, head of asbestos-related disease at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Our research last year highlighted how asbestos continues to pose a very real risk across the UK, not only to those working in industrial settings, but also in buildings used regularly by members of the public and public sector employees.


“Through our work, we’re sadly all too familiar with the devastating impact that asbestos can have. We remain deeply concerned that enough isn’t being done to eradicate the harmful substance from these buildings.


“Schools continue to be one of the main areas affected, and it’s incredibly worrying that children may be coming into contact with asbestos as they are particularly susceptible. Whilst we welcome the councils’ recent efforts, with a large percentage of last year’s removals involving schools, there are still far too many buildings containing the material which, once disturbed or requiring reparatory work, can become highly dangerous.


“We’re therefore renewing our call to the Government to do more to keep people safe.”


Out of the local authorities that responded to Irwin Mitchell, this time around, Kent County Council had undergone the most removals in the 12 months to April 2023 at 56.  Around two-thirds of these were confirmed to be schools or education centres. Wiltshire Council was close behind with 54; around half of these were schools or nurseries.


Kirklees Council and Buckinghamshire Council followed, with 38 and 25 removals respectively.  Again, the majority of these were carried out in schools.


Cardiff Council, the only Welsh local authority approached, reported 19 removals.  This included 17 schools and Cardiff Castle.  


BCP Council for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole had 18 removals undertaken, and Leeds City Council confirmed a total of 14, the majority of which were leisure or community centres.


Birmingham City Council reported to have undertaken seven removals, which were only remedial works identified during asbestos surveys and didn’t include schools. Similarly, Manchester City Council’s figure of five was for operational sites and also didn’t include schools.


Both Sheffield City Council and the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council each confirmed that four public buildings had had asbestos removed, while Cheshire East and Barnet Councils reported two and one respectively.  


Croydon Council was the only local authority to respond that stated it had undertaken no removals within the specified timeframe, whereas Durham County Council said it didn’t hold the requested information centrally.


Further information obtained by Irwin Mitchell also reveals that the total cost of removing asbestos from the above-mentioned buildings was around £1,111,000.  Buckinghamshire spent the most at almost £280,000, with Sheffield spending the least at around £1,200.


Meanwhile, even though Bristol City Council responded with data, the information provided covers a range of activity carried out relating to the presence of asbestos. It did, however, incorporate removals from schools, sports facilities, allotments and markets.


Liz Darlison, CEO at Mesothelioma UK, said: “The ongoing presents of asbestos in UK public buildings is a huge concern; the number of education and health workers diagnosed with mesothelioma is unforgivable.  No one should be living with an avoidable occupational cancer in today’s UK.  The current approach to managing asbestos has to be updated; so many lives could be saved.”


Case Study


Former joiner Michael Oakes, from Heckmondwike, Kirklees, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in February 2022.


Michael instructed lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness and help determine how he’d come into contact with asbestos.  It’s thought his exposure took place when he worked as a joiner undertaking maintenance contracts on local authority sites, including schools in Kirklees. 


The 67 year old’s legal team launched a High Court case against Kirklees Council, which has consented to judgment being entered after it accepted breach of duty in respect of Michael’s exposure to asbestos.


The lawyers are now working with the local authority in relation to funding future care and treatment. 


Michael left school at the age of 15, in 1971, and began employment as an apprentice joiner.  He recalled working at a number of schools undertaking joinery work and being exposed to “large amounts of asbestos dust” due to the presence of asbestos materials in the school.


Michael began to feel unwell in late November 2021, with symptoms of breathlessness.  Following tests, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.


He lives with his wife Rachel, aged 50.  He has two children and two step-children.  


He said: “Before my diagnosis, I was relatively fit and healthy and enjoyed playing golf and going on holiday with my family.  Sadly, my condition has deteriorated and I’m unable to do a lot of what I did before, which is incredibly frustrating and upsetting.


I have had to have a lot of treatment to help keep the mesothelioma cancer at bay, and have received a tremendous amount of support from healthcare professionals, but it really impacts on your day to day life. 


“Being told I have mesothelioma was a huge shock, as it was something I didn’t know anything about.  It also raised a lot of questions around how I could have developed it, and to find out that my work was to blame was another blow.


“Thankfully, I have the most amazing family who have supported me with it all; I really couldn’t have got by without them.  


“While nothing can be done to change what I’m going through, I feel it’s important for others to be aware of what asbestos can do.  I think a lot of people believe it to be a historical issue, but asbestos is still present in a large number of today’s buildings, posing a risk to so many.


“I wouldn’t want anyone else suffering like I am, so something needs to be done.”


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