Education minister to contact all Welsh councils over school asbestos

RISK: Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews

RISK: Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews

First published in News

THE Welsh education minister says his department is writing to all local authorities about asbestos in schools following the closure of Cwmcarn High School.

In response to a urgent question from Gwyn Price, AM for Islwyn, Leighton Andrews said that the health and safety of pupils and staff is of paramount importance.

He said Public Health Wales (PHW) is providing a health based risk assessment today. The authority is looking at a number of options to accommodate the pupils as a priority.

"We are going to seek further information from local authorities on a national basis and we expect to have that over the next fortnight," he said.

Officials in Mr Andrews department had been in touch with Caerphilly council since Friday and the director of children and young people and schools was to attend an emergency planning meeting at 4.30pm.

He said: "The situation is a difficult one. I commend CCBC for taking swift action on Friday when they discovered the problem but there are still some issues for which we wait a report from PHW."

William Graham, AM for South Wales East, said the Tories support a central register in Wales for where asbestos is present in Wales.

Mr Andrews responded that there was a clear duty to local authorities to survey buildings annually and that surveys in Caerphilly county were being carried out regularly.

He said he has asked director of schools to write to all local authorities for a response by Friday week on the situation in regard to asbestos in their own schools.

He said councils have to have asbestos management plans in place.

Mohammad Asghar, Tory AM for South Wales East, said it had been reported that Caerphilly council knew about asbestos being present in Cwmcarn High School and had removed asbestos from the premises last summer, and was aware of asbestos being present in 30 other schools.

He asked children should not miss out on their studies. He asked: "How are you going to tackle this?

"Have you got the funding to repair that large number of schools? Mr Andrews replied the question was whether the situation in a school was safe or not.

"We know that many schools in Wales will have asbestos present," he said.

Meanwhile Chris Evans MP for Islwyn, said: "Obviously the key thing at the moment is health and safety and the after that it's making sure that nobody's education is affected particularly those who are going to be sitting exams. "We've got to be positive, it is only a temporary measure and let's just hope a resolution can be found as soon as possible. "I think the important thing is that we support the Council and the school community."

Comments (4)

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7:37pm Tue 16 Oct 12

archiethecat says...

What I don't understand is that I thought all caerphilly schools had detailed asbestos surveys showing exactly where the asbestos is & shouldn't any contractors see this before starting any work?
What I don't understand is that I thought all caerphilly schools had detailed asbestos surveys showing exactly where the asbestos is & shouldn't any contractors see this before starting any work? archiethecat
  • Score: 0

9:14pm Tue 16 Oct 12

asbestos123 says...

“William Graham, AM for South Wales East, said the Tories support a central register in Wales for where asbestos is present in Wales” .. What a splendidly useless idea from someone who knows probably knows nothing about asbestos .. An asbestos registers would have been available at the school since the `duty to manage asbestos` was introduced in 2002, so what’s the benefit of a central register and who will use it?
Asbestos was widely used in construction for years, most people were born in hospitals with asbestos, gone to school with asbestos and probably still work in buildings with asbestos, it’s difficult to escape from. The idea of removing all asbestos has been talked about for years but no one will fund it.
I’m interested what the fibre concentration levels were that sparked the evacuation of the school and was it higher than the HSE clearance level.
“William Graham, AM for South Wales East, said the Tories support a central register in Wales for where asbestos is present in Wales” .. What a splendidly useless idea from someone who knows probably knows nothing about asbestos .. An asbestos registers would have been available at the school since the `duty to manage asbestos` was introduced in 2002, so what’s the benefit of a central register and who will use it? Asbestos was widely used in construction for years, most people were born in hospitals with asbestos, gone to school with asbestos and probably still work in buildings with asbestos, it’s difficult to escape from. The idea of removing all asbestos has been talked about for years but no one will fund it. I’m interested what the fibre concentration levels were that sparked the evacuation of the school and was it higher than the HSE clearance level. asbestos123
  • Score: 0

12:03am Wed 17 Oct 12

Careful says...

I welcome the Minister's concern over asbestos levels in Schools across Wales as most were built prior to 2000, when asbestos was banned from use in building materials. I would expect that most Schools in Wales built prior to this date to have some level of asbestos in their construction. The situation at Cwmcarn High School has come as a shock to me as a parent (and probably shared by most) not so much as to the presence of asbestos, which has been anecdotally noted by parents (it is present in many common building materials and in many locations most people would not normally expect, and according to the HSE is relatively harmless if left undisturbed in its original state), but what events impacting on this otherwise undisturbed and long-standing material led to the Council deciding to close the School at such short notice? The probable reality is that most schools will end up on "the list" and the pragmatic (to wholesale eradicate asbestos, although ideal and aspirational, will presumably be too expensive in these lean times and perhaps unnecessary from an HSE perspective?) issue I guess will be to ensure that any building works at these locations will need to be managed/performed in a manner (in addition to the paramount health and well-being of school occupants) that avoids/minimises disruption to a learner's education. I should expect that in the case of Cwmcarn High, CCBC will prior to this "structural report" will have possessed an up to date report on the status and location of absestos in these buildings. If it is deemed that responsibility for this sits with the School, then I would anticipate that adequate financial provision be put in place by Welsh Government to ensure that it (the School) can carry out this obligation in a proper manner. It should be applauded that Cwmcarn High School consistently delivers above LA average educational achievement with the lowest secondary school funding per pupil in the Borough compared with the highest (£3443 v £4476 in 11/12). In simple terms, an additional c.£1m pa in school funding would I am sure go a long way to further enhancing this proud educational attainment as well as providing much needed funding to address pressing and important estate management matters including building maintenance.
I welcome the Minister's concern over asbestos levels in Schools across Wales as most were built prior to 2000, when asbestos was banned from use in building materials. I would expect that most Schools in Wales built prior to this date to have some level of asbestos in their construction. The situation at Cwmcarn High School has come as a shock to me as a parent (and probably shared by most) not so much as to the presence of asbestos, which has been anecdotally noted by parents (it is present in many common building materials and in many locations most people would not normally expect, and according to the HSE is relatively harmless if left undisturbed in its original state), but what events impacting on this otherwise undisturbed and long-standing material led to the Council deciding to close the School at such short notice? The probable reality is that most schools will end up on "the list" and the pragmatic (to wholesale eradicate asbestos, although ideal and aspirational, will presumably be too expensive in these lean times and perhaps unnecessary from an HSE perspective?) issue I guess will be to ensure that any building works at these locations will need to be managed/performed in a manner (in addition to the paramount health and well-being of school occupants) that avoids/minimises disruption to a learner's education. I should expect that in the case of Cwmcarn High, CCBC will prior to this "structural report" will have possessed an up to date report on the status and location of absestos in these buildings. If it is deemed that responsibility for this sits with the School, then I would anticipate that adequate financial provision be put in place by Welsh Government to ensure that it (the School) can carry out this obligation in a proper manner. It should be applauded that Cwmcarn High School consistently delivers above LA average educational achievement with the lowest secondary school funding per pupil in the Borough compared with the highest (£3443 v £4476 in 11/12). In simple terms, an additional c.£1m pa in school funding would I am sure go a long way to further enhancing this proud educational attainment as well as providing much needed funding to address pressing and important estate management matters including building maintenance. Careful
  • Score: 0

7:05pm Sun 21 Oct 12

Careful says...

It is vital for pupil and staff welfare and safety that before any conclusions are drawn by the Minister regarding this list/database that it has been compiled on a "level playing field".

Whilst there has been an obligation in place since 2003 to ensure that each non-domestic building (read school) has an asbestos survey, it is likely that each school's "current" survey will have been undertaken at materially different times to others. The standards for asbestos surveying have tightened since 2003, once in 2006 and again just recently in April 2012. It is certain that the vast majority of these school surveys being submitted to Welsh Government by Councils will have been undertaken BEFORE the April 2012 regs were put in place, and may well be incomparable, and any conclusions as to how one school's "asbestos levels" compared to another would be dangerous and at best unreliable.
The original, now ten-year old, 2002 regs state that any area of the premises not accessed or inspected MUST be recorded (note it does not insist that all areas of the buildings be surveyed e.g. roofs, voids, boiler rooms, etc). The regs add that any such area MUST be ASSUMED to contain asbestos unless there is STRONG EVIDENCE that they do not. Therefore, if a roof/ceiling void is not surveyed positively for ACM's (Asbestos Containing Materials) then the report should say that this is the case and also that it should therefore be ASSUMED that this area/location contains asbestos.
The 2012 (including Survey Guidance) regs tighten obligations further by specifying that "Survey thoroughness is important" and therefore roofs, voids and other (previously omitted areas: my words) areas should be surveyed as far as is reasonably practicable. The 2012 regs also importantly break the surveys into two categories: (i) management surveys (routine obligation on duty holder to manage risk) and (ii) refurbishment and demolition surveys. The latter survey "will be fully intrusive and involve destructive inspection, as necessary, to gain access to all
areas, including those that may be difficult to reach". A refurbishment and demolition survey is MANDATORY "before any refurbishment or demolition work is carried out.".

The Council in its correspondence with parents has used the words "structural survey". As we know that maintenance work was being proposed at Cwmcarn High School, it is almost certain that the survey undertaken had to be (under 2012 regs) performed to the highest and most stringent level ie. the refurbishment and demolition type. This survey will have been undertaken to the highest levels under current legislation and "It is a disruptive and fully intrusive survey which may need to penetrate all parts of the building structure. Aggressive inspection techniques will be needed to lift carpets and tiles,break through walls, ceilings, cladding and partitions, and open up floors. In these situations, controls should be put in place to prevent the spread of debris, which may include asbestos.".
It is therefore worth noting that Cwmcarn High School's report has therefore been carried out to the highest level, and judgements have been taken based on the latest and most up-to-date threshold data for asbestos. IT IS UNLIKELY THAT MANY OF THE OTHER SCHOOLS IN WALES (unless they have had refurbishment works undertaken AFTER April 2012) WILL CURRENTLY POSSESS AN ASBESTOS REPORT THAT HAS BEEN UNDERTAKEN TO SUCH A THOROUGH AND UP-TO-DATE SPECIFICATION.

It is therefore not unfair to reasonably conclude that if all Welsh schools built before 2000 were to be surveyed on a similar and consistent basis, to that experienced by Cwmcarn High, then it is probable that the problem may be shared more widely than is presently the case!

Until this is done (ie. the level playing field is restored) NOBODY can safely and justifiably conclude just how safe a learning environment our children are currently subjected to. Cwmcarn High is not unique and this unfortunate situation may just be the "tip of the iceberg" for Schools in Wales (and for that matter the UK).

The point I am trying to make is that Cwmcarn High is not a "bad" school for having asbestos detected in one of its buildings. The current leadership team had no say in its construction, and therefore could be argued as being victims (along with their pupils, including my children) of circumstance. What they do have control over is the QUALITY OF LEARNING EXPERIENCE AND ACHIEVEMENT FOR LEARNERS. Regarding this they clearly demonstrate sustained success with the significantly limited resources they receive. The Council has undertaken to "identify alternative arrangements" by 5 November. Let's hope the Council in arriving at its decision, equally values maintaining the educational welfare and attainment of its pupils, by keeping the School (Governors, Staff and Learners, not necessarily its Buildings) together, as well as their health and well-being, because after all, is the environment they currently occupy that much worse than any other school (i.e. those built before 2000) in Wales, now or at any time in the future?
I am not condoning asbestos in any way, shape or form - it's a sad fact of life that we all probably encounter asbestos fibres every day at work, in our environment and also in our homes to different levels. Cwmcarn High should not be victimised as a "pariah" over this. Positive and innovative solutions for the continued academic success and well-being of this School (as a human entity) must be at the forefront of each Decision-maker's mind, when 5 November eventually arrives. PLEASE DO NOT FORGET OR UNDERVALUE THIS!
It is vital for pupil and staff welfare and safety that before any conclusions are drawn by the Minister regarding this list/database that it has been compiled on a "level playing field". Whilst there has been an obligation in place since 2003 to ensure that each non-domestic building (read school) has an asbestos survey, it is likely that each school's "current" survey will have been undertaken at materially different times to others. The standards for asbestos surveying have tightened since 2003, once in 2006 and again just recently in April 2012. It is certain that the vast majority of these school surveys being submitted to Welsh Government by Councils will have been undertaken BEFORE the April 2012 regs were put in place, and may well be incomparable, and any conclusions as to how one school's "asbestos levels" compared to another would be dangerous and at best unreliable. The original, now ten-year old, 2002 regs state that any area of the premises not accessed or inspected MUST be recorded (note it does not insist that all areas of the buildings be surveyed e.g. roofs, voids, boiler rooms, etc). The regs add that any such area MUST be ASSUMED to contain asbestos unless there is STRONG EVIDENCE that they do not. Therefore, if a roof/ceiling void is not surveyed positively for ACM's (Asbestos Containing Materials) then the report should say that this is the case and also that it should therefore be ASSUMED that this area/location contains asbestos. The 2012 (including Survey Guidance) regs tighten obligations further by specifying that "Survey thoroughness is important" and therefore roofs, voids and other (previously omitted areas: my words) areas should be surveyed as far as is reasonably practicable. The 2012 regs also importantly break the surveys into two categories: (i) management surveys (routine obligation on duty holder to manage risk) and (ii) refurbishment and demolition surveys. The latter survey "will be fully intrusive and involve destructive inspection, as necessary, to gain access to all areas, including those that may be difficult to reach". A refurbishment and demolition survey is MANDATORY "before any refurbishment or demolition work is carried out.". The Council in its correspondence with parents has used the words "structural survey". As we know that maintenance work was being proposed at Cwmcarn High School, it is almost certain that the survey undertaken had to be (under 2012 regs) performed to the highest and most stringent level ie. the refurbishment and demolition type. This survey will have been undertaken to the highest levels under current legislation and "It is a disruptive and fully intrusive survey which may need to penetrate all parts of the building structure. Aggressive inspection techniques will be needed to lift carpets and tiles,break through walls, ceilings, cladding and partitions, and open up floors. In these situations, controls should be put in place to prevent the spread of debris, which may include asbestos.". It is therefore worth noting that Cwmcarn High School's report has therefore been carried out to the highest level, and judgements have been taken based on the latest and most up-to-date threshold data for asbestos. IT IS UNLIKELY THAT MANY OF THE OTHER SCHOOLS IN WALES (unless they have had refurbishment works undertaken AFTER April 2012) WILL CURRENTLY POSSESS AN ASBESTOS REPORT THAT HAS BEEN UNDERTAKEN TO SUCH A THOROUGH AND UP-TO-DATE SPECIFICATION. It is therefore not unfair to reasonably conclude that if all Welsh schools built before 2000 were to be surveyed on a similar and consistent basis, to that experienced by Cwmcarn High, then it is probable that the problem may be shared more widely than is presently the case! Until this is done (ie. the level playing field is restored) NOBODY can safely and justifiably conclude just how safe a learning environment our children are currently subjected to. Cwmcarn High is not unique and this unfortunate situation may just be the "tip of the iceberg" for Schools in Wales (and for that matter the UK). The point I am trying to make is that Cwmcarn High is not a "bad" school for having asbestos detected in one of its buildings. The current leadership team had no say in its construction, and therefore could be argued as being victims (along with their pupils, including my children) of circumstance. What they do have control over is the QUALITY OF LEARNING EXPERIENCE AND ACHIEVEMENT FOR LEARNERS. Regarding this they clearly demonstrate sustained success with the significantly limited resources they receive. The Council has undertaken to "identify alternative arrangements" by 5 November. Let's hope the Council in arriving at its decision, equally values maintaining the educational welfare and attainment of its pupils, by keeping the School (Governors, Staff and Learners, not necessarily its Buildings) together, as well as their health and well-being, because after all, is the environment they currently occupy that much worse than any other school (i.e. those built before 2000) in Wales, now or at any time in the future? I am not condoning asbestos in any way, shape or form - it's a sad fact of life that we all probably encounter asbestos fibres every day at work, in our environment and also in our homes to different levels. Cwmcarn High should not be victimised as a "pariah" over this. Positive and innovative solutions for the continued academic success and well-being of this School (as a human entity) must be at the forefront of each Decision-maker's mind, when 5 November eventually arrives. PLEASE DO NOT FORGET OR UNDERVALUE THIS! Careful
  • Score: 0

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