St Pius X Catholic Preparatory Schoolin Fulwood criticised by Health and Safety Executive for botched handling of asbestos
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St Pius X Catholic Preparatory School breached strict guidelines after the toxic substance was found in its basement.
However, former staff at the £8,475 a year school have told the Lancashire Post they are concerned over a perceived lack of transparency surrounding the issue and fear staff may have been exposed to risk.
Asbestos was found in the basement of the Garstang Road school in May 2019 and a specialist contractor was brought in to investigate.
But crucial information from the firm’s report was not shared with staff by those who supervised the clear up at the time, resulting in the contaminated rooms later being used as work areas, without any of the necessary asbestos monitoring or management in place.
The presence of asbestos was only discovered again two years later after a member of the school’s maintenance team found warning stickers in the basement where he was working. The school says there has been no exposure of asbestos to pupils.
The Health and Safety Executive was notified of the breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and later charged the school an undisclosed fee to investigate the affair.
However, the Post has spoken to several former staff members who say they want the school’s actions to be reinvestigated by the HSE.
What do former staff at St Pius say?
Several former staff members have now told the Post they fear they have been exposed to asbestos after working in areas with unmonitored asbestos fibres.
Ben Hodges worked as a caretaker at the school from May 2021 until December 2021. A month after starting his post, the former Royal Navy serviceman discovered asbestos warning stickers while clearing out a basement with co-worker Stephen Pickthall.
Ben said: “The workshop looked like a bomb had hit it, like it had been abandoned for years. Our first task was to clean it out so we were on our hands and knees, sweeping up dust and debris and moving stuff around just to see what we had to work with.
“We did that over a four week period, and I noticed there were stickers for asbestos on the roof, on the doors and a few other places.”
Ben raised concerns with the school’s now ex-bursar, Ann Mourby, who soon found an inspection report from 2019 which confirmed numerous areas in the basement had asbestos and had been disturbed by drilling and other works.
Although Ann started work at the school two months after this 2019 survey, this was the first she had heard of it. “I was shocked because I've had guys working down in the cellar all that time,” she said.
Ann says the school then drew up an action plan but was urged not to share the document with the wider school community. “I was horrified because once I found out the ramifications of it, I felt that the staff should know,” she added.
This new survey was undertaken in Summer 2021, and it confirmed loose asbestos fibres were present in the basement area where Ben and Stephen were working.
Stephen commented: “We were disgusted because me and Ben had been on our hands and knees cleaning it up, so when this came to light, it was a shock because nobody knew anything about it.”
What happened when asbestos was discovered in 2019?
Former secretary and headteacher’s PA, Caroline Warden, who worked at St Pius from 2012-2020, was at the school when the disturbed asbestos was discovered in 2019.
She said: “We were made to clear up the cellar so that they could get in to paint it, because all of my archiving paperwork was stored down there.
"Then we were told that it was all okay, the protective paints been put on, you can go in.”
When asbestos is found, legally a survey should be done at least every six to 12 months, to ensure its management.
However, St Pius admits that following this 2019 clear up, those who supervised it, left soon after, with the management of asbestos never being passed on.
Is asbestos cleared from St Pius in Fulwood now?
Groves Environmental finally removed the asbestos fibres on the weekend of July 9 2021, around five weeks after Ben found the warning stickers. Groves discovered 30kg of crystolite, and 20kg of amosite, also known as brown asbestos which is considered one of the most hazardous types, in the basement’s boiler room, the caretaker’s workshop, stairs and landing.
What has happened post clear up?
Ann reported the possible asbestos exposure as a dangerous occurrence to HSE’s RIDDOR on August 3 2021, before walking out of the school, and informing ex-staff they may have come into contact with asbestos.
The HSE investigation following Ann’s report found the school had violated asbestos regulations but no prosecutions or additional fines were imposed on the school.
However, former staff believe that the HSE did not understand the full extent of the exposure, and are calling for another investigation, and for the school to be held further accountable.
They contacted Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick regarding the matter, who can confirm he approached both St Pius and the HSE with concerns over the staff exposure, asking them to further investigate.
Stephen explained: “I want it written down somewhere in a statement that they recognise that the staff have been in contact with asbestos, and if anyone becomes ill in time, there's an insurance that they can look after us.”
What have the Health and Safety Executive said?
A spokesman from HSE told the Post: “A Notification of Contravention was sent to the school, following the identification of a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
“This resulted in the school being subject to the Fee for Intervention Regulations, which means that HSE recovered the cost of an investigation from the school.
“Following the letter from Sir Mark Hendrick, we have reviewed our decision and have concluded that the outcome of the investigation was appropriate, and in line with our Enforcement Management Model.”
What does St Pius say about the asbestos find?
A school spokesperson said: “A professional, expert survey was undertaken to locate any asbestos containing materials (ABMs) in July 2019, under the supervision of the former bursar.
“When the former bursar left the school in August 2019 there was no handover of various school affairs.
“Last summer, a further professional inspection was carried out, with the results reported to the Health and Safety Executive, after suspected ABMs were discovered in the cellar area, to which pupils have no access.
“Following the discovery on May 11, the cellar was immediately and completely cordoned off to enable testing to be carried out by licensed experts.
“In July 2021 the area was given the all clear, following a comprehensive and detailed inspection and removal exercise. It remains strictly off-limits to pupils.
“The HSE were informed and consulted during the removal project last summer and subsequently carried out a thorough inspection of the area in November 21. They stated they were satisfied with the situation and happy with the school’s ongoing approach, which includes the appointment of a major facilities company to deliver maintenance and compliance services.”