Asbestos tests in schools must be consistent after Cwmcarn High School, says union NASUWT
A teachers’ union has called for schools across Caerphilly County Borough and Wales to be tested for asbestos in the same way after Cwmcarn High School was closed last week.
The school, which has 900 pupils, was closed until further notice on Friday October 12 after a structural report found asbestos.
NASUWT Cymru this week revealed that contractors at the school had tested for asbestos in the air using a threshold of 0.0005 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetres of air.
The union’s Wales organiser Rex Phillips said Caerphilly Council told staff it tests schools at a higher threshold of 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetres of air.
The Health and Safety Executive has been asked by the union to carry out its own investigation which it has confirmed it will do.
Mr Phillips said: “We are hoping to be meeting with the local authority later this week as there are some worries we want to ask about the situation at the school.
“We welcomed the decision to close the school last week – it’s the sort of decisive action that needed to be taken when the safety of staff and pupils was jeopardised.
“However, the test carried out at the school is different to other schools and we want the same test at Cwmcarn applied to all schools in Caerphilly County Borough so they can make sure they conform to that standard.
“There are 30 schools which council know have asbestos in them.”
Mr Phillips added that all schools in Wales should now be tested to the same 0.0005 fibres per cubic centimetre of air threshold.
In the wake of the closure of Cwmcarn High School, Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews has ordered all Welsh councils to deliver reports on asbestos levels in schools by next week.
Mr Andrews said it was well-known that many schools in Wales built between the 1950s and 1980s contained asbestos, but that it did not pose a health threat if undisturbed.
Opposition parties have also called for a public register of asbestos in schools.
There was cross-party backing for the swift action taken by Caerphilly Council to close the school once the risk was identified last Friday.
Opposition parties also called for the register of asbestos in school to be made public and a plan put in place to minimise the risk to pupils and staff.
On Tuesday evening, a spokesman for Caerphilly County Borough Council said the authority was finalising arrangements for the school to partially re-open on Friday – a week after the initial closure.
He said: “We are delighted to inform parents that Year 12 and 13 will be able to return to the school site on Friday (October 19) and should report to the Performing Arts centre at 8.30am. This newest part of the school (a stand-alone block) is available for use and is separate from the rest of the school buildings. We will also accommodate Year 11 pupils at the site from Monday October 22 and they should also report to the Performing Arts centre at 8.30am.
“The council took the difficult decision to close the school in light of the findings of a structural report and we are not prepared to fully re-open the site until further investigations have taken place to determine the extent of the problem and the work needed to address the situation. A range of options are being investigated for the other age groups and further updates will be posted on the council and school websites.
“The council and school will continue to work closely to resolve these issues as soon as possible.”