A 36-year-old man who developed an asbestos-related disease after being exposed to asbestos in a school has been awarded compensation.
Chris Wallace attended Yeo Valley Primary School, Yeo Valley Junior School, South Molton Junior School and South Molton Community College between 1982 & 1993. He was later diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a condition that can be triggered by exposure to asbestos, at the age of 30.
Mr Wallace believes that he came into contact with asbestos while he was at school and put together a list of specific examples of when exposure may have occurred. He then opted to take legal action against Devon County Council, which was in charge of the schools he attended.
While Devon County Council did not admit liability in the asbestos case, the authority did agree to settle out of Court and Mr Wallace has now been awarded £275,000 asbestos compensation.
Unique Asbestos Case
Devon County Council noted this is the first time a former school pupil has taken legal action in such circumstances. A spokesman for the authority said this makes it a "unique case".
The official said Devon County Council has "every sympathy" with Mr Wallace for his asbestos illness, but insisted that the case was settled out of Court without it admitting liability.
He also stressed the authority goes to great lengths to manage asbestos in its buildings, taking steps such as carrying out regular inspections. "Asbestos is safe as long as it isn't disturbed," the spokesman commented.
"All Devon schools have been surveyed for asbestos material and each school holds a full record of any asbestos in its buildings. This identifies where asbestos is located, its condition and our safety policies."
The spokesman also pointed out that contractors are required to sign the asbestos list if they engage in a visit that could lead to the substance being disturbed.
He added that each school has its own Asbestos Management Plan in place, which details its local arrangements, such as communications between the school, employees and parents.
Council 'Has to Take Responsibility'
Speaking after the asbestos compensation package was agreed, Mr Wallace insisted that Devon County Council has to "take a large chunk of responsibility" for his condition.
This, he said, is because the Council knew that asbestos was present in the school buildings, which means it must have been aware children were in danger of being exposed to asbestos.
Mr Wallace also stated that it is the council's responsibility to make sure all traces of asbestos are removed from its buildings safely. "It was a very difficult case, having to prove you were there and that you were exposed to a certain level of asbestos," he added.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), materials that contain asbestos are dangerous in schools if they are damaged or disturbed during repair, maintenance or construction work.
The HSE said this means school caretakers are particularly vulnerable to asbestos-related illnesses, as they are regularly engaged in carrying out tasks such as drilling and fixing.
In addition, the HSE stated that if asbestos is disturbed while this type of work is being performed, there is a danger of asbestos dust and/or fibres being released and creating a hazard for others in the school.