A LEADING asbestos auditor has identified further problems with the schools asbestos register, claiming it can be misinterpreted because of its complexity.About 70 per cent of NSW public schools contain asbestos, which is recorded on the Department of Education’s asbestos register.The register’s accuracy was challenged last week after the potentially toxic substance was discovered at a Wollongong school in an area where it had previously been undetected.Andrew Mantle, of Asbestos Audits, Reports and Management Services, said that school staff often struggled to understand the register.”They often require multiple referencing to different tables within the report. This is extremely complicated and therefore is often missed or wrongly interpreted,” he said. ”The report system needs to change, so everyone has a thorough … understanding of where the asbestos is.”And private schools have no central asbestos register, posing a potential risk to staff and students. ”This is not simply a state school issue,” Mr Mantle said. ”We have completed audits for some of the most prestigious schools … They, too, had serious and urgent issues. Most alarmingly, they had no register in place.”An Association of Independent Schools of NSW spokesman confirmed there was no central register but said that individual schools would have asbestos management plans.”Independent schools are left to their own devices as long as they are meeting all the standards and requirements set by the Government and the Board of Studies,” he said.”Under those requirements they are obliged to provide a safe and secure environment for students and staff, and minimising the risk of asbestos would be part of that.”Materials containing asbestos are harmless if undisturbed but become dangerous once broken up.The NSW Department of Education maintains children and staff are not at risk of asbestos exposure in schools. ”The safety of its students and staff is the Department of Education and Training’s top priority,” a spokesman said.However, the P&C committee at Baulkham Hills North Public School said the department had been slow to act to deal with asbestos in a staff car park.P&C president Craig Turner said the school had warned the department about the problem a year ago. ”We are very concerned …,” Mr Turner said. ”Little bits of asbestos come up all the time. The department has looked at it but it hasn’t been rectified. The school community doesn’t have a lot of faith in the way the department is handling this.”The department’s spokesman said the asbestos in the car park did not pose a threat because it was firmly bound in fibrous cement, commonly known as fibro.”Fibro fragments have been removed from the car park … on three occasions,” he said. ”A hygienist report is being prepared and will recommend remediation works be … completed by the end of the year. The site will continue to be monitored to ensure it is safe until the remediation works are carried out.”
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