Nichol Associates

Nichol Associates

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No let-up in school asbestos row

The HSE and a well-known safety consultancy are at odds over the presence of asbestos and the risks it could potentially pose for occupants at a school in Wales, which was forced to close last year.

An asbestos survey carried out by Santia Consulting Ltd at Cwmcarn High School, Caerphilly in November last year uncovered evidence of widespread contamination within the school’s ceiling voids, as well as damage to asbestos-insulating boards (AIBs) within some classrooms.

But, in a report last week, the HSL said its own tests showed that airborne asbestos-fibre concentrations were “many times lower than the concentrations assumed from the previous measurements made”.

On 8 February, Santia issued a strongly-worded statement, dismissing the HSL’s report for taking a “very narrow approach” and failing to address the fundamental issue of the requirement for the school to be a safe environment in which to study and work.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We would have expected an objective report to address these issues and be able to comment upon them. We invite the HSE to disclose the letter of instruction to HSL, which should confirm the extent of its brief from the HSE on these matters.”

It argues that the investigations undertaken by the HSL were in a school which had been unoccupied for some time, and while some attempts were made by one person to simulate disturbance, these cannot be regarded as being representative of the disturbance that would be caused by up to 900 pupils and 100 staff all moving about in the building between lessons.

According to the consultancy, as long ago as 1981 the HSE issued guidance to local authorities warning of the dangers of using warm-air cabinet heating containing unsealed AIB panels, AIB debris and asbestos fibres. It also suggested that a leaking roof could lead to ceiling collapses and, consequently, asbestos exposure in occupied areas of the building.

The consultancy concluded: “Both the council and Santia continue to believe that the safety of the children attending the school and those who work there cannot be guaranteed with the foreseeable risks in relation to asbestos still in existence.”

SHP has contacted the HSE for a response to the consultancy’s latest comments and is awaiting its reply.

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