Warning issued to school heads following asbestos safety errors

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HEADTEACHERS across Calderdale have been warned about the dangers of uncovering asbestos in school buildings following a council probe which discovered health and safety failings.

Recent health and safety inspections of asbestos management systems highlighted deficiencies in procedures relating to council buildings and schools in Calderdale.

The council has stated that no employees, children or members of public have been put at any risk.

But the authority has introduced measures to ensure managers, governors and headteachers are aware of the dangers and their responsibilities.

A premises asbestos management plan was introduced earlier this year in schools and academies. But a council report has warned that procedures have not been followed in some schools.

It says: “A number of near miss incidents and two involving asbestos management have occurred in schools during the summer periods which have been investigated by the health and safety manager.

“No one was put at risk, however some procedures and council policies were clearly not followed.”

As a result of the mistakes, schools were recently warned about the dangers of employing contractors who are not trained to deal with asbestos.

In a recent memo sent to schools, David Whalley, head of learning in the council’s children and young people’s service, said: “Given the complexities of health and safety when procuring construction and maintenance work, some schools are still at risk of non-compliance.

“This has been highlighted by a number of near misses since the end of term.

“Schools are reminded that when procuring and authorising construction work it is essential and also a statutory duty on the school that those contractors delegated to deliver this work are competent and adequately trained on the health and safety aspects of this procurement.”

The report contains an extensive checklist which schools must follow when managing construction work. Schools are recommended to use asbestos-licensed removal contractors.

The advice adds: “It is also eminently sensible to only organise asbestos removal works outside normal school hours.”

In a separate report, the council warns that thousands of people die every year as result of previous exposure to asbestos fibres.

Last night the council’s director of communities, Robin Tuddenham, said: “Parents should not be concerned about asbestos exposure in Calderdale schools.

“Calderdale Council has a very proactive approach to asbestos management in line with the regulations. We work closely with schools, and have an ongoing training programme for school staff – who would contact us about any concerns, however minor.

“When refurbishments take place in schools, the opportunity is taken to remove any asbestos. There are strict guidelines to follow for contractors removing the material, and our system is audited by the Health and Safety Executive.

“We want to prevent accidents from occurring all across the council. A ‘near miss’ report gives the health and safety team, managers and supervisors the opportunity to investigate any issues and if necessary take prompt action.

“A ‘near miss’ is an event or situation that could have resulted in injury, damage or loss but did not do so due to circumstances, corrective action and/or timely intervention. In all recent ‘near miss’ reports involving asbestos, no asbestos fibres were released in the workplace, no asbestos regulations were breached, and no further action was required.

“The near miss was down to a breakdown of internal procedures and best practice; no one was put at any actual risk. The council endeavours to achieve the very highest standards in this area.”