Cwmcarn asbestos: Report order to all Welsh schools

Mr Andrews said it was well known that many schools in Wales built between the 1950s and 1980s contained asbestos

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All schools in Wales must deliver reports on their asbestos levels by next week, Education Minister Leighton Andrews has announced.

Mr Andrews made the decision after Cwmcarn High School in Caerphilly county closed unexpectedly because of asbestos concerns last Friday.

He called the situation at Cwmcarn difficult and said councils had clear legal duties to do annual surveys.

He also announced that Cwmcarn will partially reopen on Friday.

Mr Andrews said it was well known that many schools in Wales built between the 1950s and 1980s contained asbestos.

Start Quote

The health and safety of staff is of paramount importance”

End Quote Leighton Andrews AM Education Minister

However, asbestos did not pose a health threat if it undisturbed.

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.

"The health and safety of staff is of paramount importance," said Mr Andrews.

Risk assessment

"Public Health Wales is providing a health-based risk assessment. The authority is looking at a number of options to accommodate pupils as a priority.

"There are contingency arrangements being put in place to secure the education for those young people," Mr Andrews added.

The council said in a statement: "We are delighted to inform parents that Year 12 and 13 will be able to return to the school site on Friday and should report to the Performing Arts centre at 8.30am.

Start Quote

When a school of 900 pupils has had to close because asbestos was found in airborne particles, I think that people across Wales have a right to know if asbestos is a danger in their local school”

End Quote Kirsty Williams AM Welsh Liberal Democrat leader

"This newest part of the school 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 22 October and they should also report to the Performing Arts centre at 8.30am."

It was a "difficult decision" to close the school and a "range of options" were being investigated for the other age groups.

Earlier, a teaching union said it asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate the discovery of asbestos at Cwmcarn.

The 900-pupil school was shut late on Friday after a structural report identified the material.

Geraint Davies of NASUWT Cymru said he wanted the HSE to confirm that correct procedures are adhered to.

The HSE said it was looking to whether there are grounds for a full investigation.

Mr Davies told BBC Wales on Tuesday: "In simple terms this is a health and safety matter and the Health And Safety Executive provides independent advice on such matters.

"In view of the seriousness of what has happened at Cwmcarn it's only fair to all concerned, be it teachers and ancillary staff, parents and pupils and indeed the council itself, for such independent advice to be available."

An HSE spokesman confirmed: "We are looking into the issue of asbestos at the school. We have to see whether there are grounds for a full investigation."

NASUWT spokesman Rex Phillips had earlier raised safety concerns, saying high levels of the material had been found throughout the building.

Airborne particles

He said staff and pupils at the school could have been exposed to airborne asbestos.

Mr Phillips said the problem was found when a company visited the school to carry out a survey on a boiler room.

He said the asbestos was found to be in airborne particles, with two-thirds of the school "inoperable".

Earlier, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams called on the Welsh government to conduct a national audit of asbestos in schools.

"When a school of 900 pupils has had to close because asbestos was found in airborne particles, I think that people across Wales have a right to know if asbestos is a danger in their local school," she said.

Pupils at the school have been given work to do at home via social networking sites such as Twitter.

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