Act Now on Asbestos

Sunday Times

Despite being banned for new buildings almost 25 years ago, asbestos is Britain's biggest workplace killer - with more than 5,000 deaths a year.

Where once the majority of those dying from the cancers it causes worked in construction and manufacturing industries, today they are in white-collar jobs including teaching, television, the NHS and retail. Around 1.5 million buildings still contain asbestos, it is in 81 per cent of schools.

The Sunday Times launched its Act Now on Asbestos campaign calling for the phased removal, starting with schools and hospitals.

The government's current strategy is to manage the risk of asbestos, as it can be safe if undisturbed.

But with prefab buildings built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s now falling into disrepair, and with a need to upgrade national infrastructure to meet net zero it became clear that ignoring asbestos was no longer a solution.

Through a series of pieces we have been highlighting the risks of the current strategy, and the terrible consequences of inaction. It proved prescient: within weeks schools and other public buildings were being closed because some roofs were at risk of collapse because they used a type of concrete called Raac. Many of these buildings also contained asbestos.

In the campaign, we have told the stories of teachers and pupils who have died from exposure to asbestos, and examined the science of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete which has become a danger to schools -leading to the closure of three schools containing asbestos since our campaign launched.

We have highlighted how the Marks and Spencer's main store in Marble Arch, which is at the centre of a planning row, was blighted with asbestos leading to the death of staff members. We have garnered support from former cabinet ministers and senior politicians leading select committees and voiced the concerns of chief executives about the legacy of asbestos.

Since we started, our campaign has raised national awareness, being followed up across other national media, and consumer affairs programmes on national television. The important issue of asbestos and its legacy has become a national talking point again. In October a coalition of 27 trade unions urged political parties to bring in a plan to remove asbestos. We are at the beginning of a long campaign, but by highlighting the tales of those affected by asbestos, and backing up our calls with science we continue pushing for change.