Leading industrial disease and asbestos illness lawyers have cautiously welcomed MPs calls for a deadline on the removal of asbestos from schools and public buildings but have said that 40 years is too long to put the health of those who work, live and learn in them at risk.

The warning comes after the Work and Pensions Select Committee said asbestos remained the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with the Health and Safety Executives estimating that asbestos may still be present in 300,000 non-domestic buildings and in many more homes.

Whilst both the HSE and government have said that the deadly material should be removed, the committee has revealed that neither had put forward a “clear and comprehensive strategy” for achieving this.

Anthony Waddington, an asbestos illness lawyer at Simpson Millar, said: “This is a positive step in the right direction, but 40 years is still too long for those who work, live and learn in schools and other public buildings to continue to live under such threat of exposure.

“Over the years we have represented dozens of people who have suffered because of exposure to the deadly material, including people who came into contact with it while in hospitals, infant schools, council flats and even local libraries.

“As the evidence shows, this is not just an illness that is isolated to heavy industrial sectors, and it is not just an illness that afflicts the elderly. Many of our clients are in their 30s and 40s, and many do not live more than a year or so after diagnosis.

“It is absolutely imperative that the government puts forward a comprehensive, cohesive strategy on how and when the deadly asbestos materials will be removed, and that the commitment to remove all asbestos from schools is done as quickly as possible.”

The call to action comes as the committee warned that while “extreme exposures” might be a thing of the past, the risks were likely to escalate, with the retrofitting of buildings to meet net zero requirements meaning more materials containing asbestos would be disturbed in the coming decades.

A concern also raised by asbestos illness lawyers, who say that many schools are also undergoing vital remedial and buildings works over the coming years.

Anthony Waddington added: “While the dangers of asbestos have been known for many decades there are still, sadly, many people dying prematurely because of related illnesses.

“Not only does this have a devastating impact on those directly and indirectly affected, but it also puts extreme pressure and a significant financial burden on the NHS which oversees the treatment of these conditions.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate that there were 2,369 mesothelioma deaths in 2019, and on top of that, there were a similar number of deaths due to asbestos-related lung cancer.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other serious lung diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening.