Asbestos report sparks action in Donnybrook

A report highlighting 120 WA schools containing asbestos has sparked action to ensure the safety of schools and students at Donnybrook District High School.A REPORT highlighting 120 WA schools containing asbestos has sparked action to ensure the safety of schools and students at Donnybrook District High School.
Nanjing Night Net

The 2013 Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) Audit highlighted 35 of those schools as having asbestos back in 2010. The report was released recently under freedom of information.

“The Barnett Government has failed to keep up with maintenance at our schools and some of these health risks have been known since 2010,” Labor spokesman for the South West Mick Murray said.

Donnybrook District High School was listed in the report as being at the highest risk level. However, this referred to one particular site and not the whole school.

Donnybrook District High School Principal Peter Fitzgerald said as he understood the issue, and he had not been advised to the contrary, the asbestos was in a situation where it was stable and not a risk. It was also in one area of the school and not throughout.

“Where there is risk, we act to the extent that we are enabled to act. I am not enabled to act to remove asbestos. That is managed through other agencies who act on behalf of the department,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“The professionals who do the assessment have deemed it to be safe. The requirement is for us to do nothing; at some future time they may remove it, that’s not a school decision, that’s a decision of the department’s agents.

“My understanding is that it is not a risk in its current state to the health or to the integrity and safety of everyone here.”

Mr Fitzgerald met on Thursday July 24 with a representative of the BMW, an arm of the Department of Treasury and Finance, who are responsible for managing all government buildings.

“He inspected a section of screening at Bentley Street which has attracted a high risk rating and is recommending that action be taken to remove the asbestos product in the screens and that these be replaced with a colourbond type product,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“Once this is approved, and I expect this will happen quickly, then he will put in place a plan to remove the asbestos product.

“This process is done in accordance with industry protocols which involve appropriate notifications, the employment of licensed specialists and adherence to laws relating to disposal. The work itself will happen at a time outside school hours, probably over a weekend.”

Education Minister Peter Collier assured parents statewide following the release of the report that the state government was taking every precaution with children’s health in managing asbestos in schools.

Mr Collier said the Western Australian Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances had advised that exposure to asbestos cement material in WA public schools represented very little risk to health.

“Environmental health experts advise that undisturbed asbestos poses an extremely low risk to health, and where it is located in areas that are unlikely to be disturbed, there is no urgent need to remove it,” Mr Collier said.

“That said, the state government has an ongoing program of asbestos removal in schools where it presents a possible risk, and last financial year we spent approximately $2million on associated repairs and maintenance.”

Further, he said all asbestos roofing on Western Australian schools had long since been removed and replaced.

Mr Collier said the thorough Building Condition Assessment reports carried out at every school provided a clear picture of where asbestos was located, and identified those spots where there could be a greater chance of the material being disturbed.

“Out of nearly 800 schools, there were only 14 schools where inspectors found one or two spots in the school where the risk rating was 1, meaning the asbestos is probably weathered and has a higher chance of being disturbed and exposed,” he said.

“Let me stress, this does not mean the whole school is at high risk.

“In those cases, the Department of Education acts quickly and assesses the best way to minimise any hazard.

“That may involve removing the asbestos altogether, which is done under controlled conditions and when no students or staff are present, or it may involve other work such as cutting off a tree branch that is brushing up against an asbestos panel, or sealing and enclosing the asbestos.

“Schools are in regular contact with the department if they have any health and safety concerns about their facilities, and experts can be dispatched quickly to assess the issue and fix it if necessary.”

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