Asbestos matters again: St. Mary’s School, Walthamstow

A quick visit to the Health and Safety Executive’s website reveals that LBWF has form on asbestos – see here:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/notices/breach/breach_list.asp?PN=1&ST=B&SN=F&EO=%3D&SF=RID&SV=1257558&SO=ANBID

Some of the episodes have attracted significant comment, too, for example here:

http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/wfnews/8331074.WALTHAM_FOREST__Union_slams_council_over_safety_rap/

More recently, NPS London Ltd (NPSL) and LBWF have commissioned their own investigations into events at St. Mary’s School, Walthamstow, and these merit some scrutiny.

What has emerged is that in 2011 and 2012, the school was subject to phased refurbishment works, and early on, a specialist contractor was employed to remove asbestos. Subsequently work proceeded. But in July 2012, further asbestos containing materials were discovered, some in the form of sprayed coating, some in the form of debris, and work on the site was halted, with an HSE inquiry said to be proceeding.

Investigation showed that there was significant confusion about the different asbestos surveys that had been completed on the building prior to the refurbishment programme commencing, and even whether or not there was a comprehensive management plan in place. The acting head teacher stated in interviews that when St. Mary’s took possession of the school as tenant of LBWF, a request had been made for relevant health and safety information, but the response was ‘piecemeal’ and in particular ‘there was no coherent handover’ relating to of asbestos (AEC, ‘Report on the History of Events and Potential Risk of Exposure to Asbestos at St. Mary’s School Walthamstow’ (NPSL, 2012), p.6). A succession of contractors appeared equally confused.

The upshot was predictable. The investigators concluded that ‘it is likely that construction workers were exposed to asbestos’ (ibid, pp.3 and 9), and to some extent were concerned, too, about the school caretaker and school cleaners. Mercifully, teachers and pupils seemed to have remained untouched, though even here there were worrying caveats:

‘There is little concern that staff or pupils have been exposed to asbestos fibre during normal occupancy of the building, as it was reported that no construction or demolition work was permitted in term time. However, major works were carried out before and after school…and the snagging works were carried out when pupils were in the school. The positive sample of asbestos in debris at the bottom of the stairwell …has raised concern amongst staff that asbestos has been “walked” down stairs on boots etc., and could have occurred during the 2011 works’ (AEC Ltd, ‘Independent Report on the Potential Risk of Exposure to Asbestos during Refurbishment Works in 2011 at St Mary’s School Walthamstow’ (NPSL, 2013), p.15).

The obvious question, again, is: how could all this have been allowed to happen?

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