CASH-strapped Police Scotland may have to carry out asbestos surveys on hundreds of its premises after a critical inspection by the health and safety quango.

A moratorium on work to existing buildings has also been imposed amid concerns the single force does not have the procedures in place to monitor the cancer-inducing hazard.

Asbestos has been a huge risk to construction workers and is believed to be linked to thousands of deaths in the UK.

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Police Scotland’s problem was flagged up after the Health and Safety Executive visited five force sites in February.

The watchdog identified “contraventions” of the law regarding the management of asbestos, which it formalised in an improvement notice: “You must take action on these matters to comply with the law.”

It said a number of concerns were highlighted in the police stations visited: “There were no asbestos management plans, areas with asbestos containing materials were not marked as such, other areas were marked in general terms as containing asbestos but with no indication where it actually was…”

It continued: “[T]here was no monitoring of the condition of asbestos and at one location it looked as though the asbestos containing material had recently been drilled into by a contractor whilst fitting a new fire safety system.”

Police Scotland confirmed the problem last week, but internal communications revealed the scale of challenge.

The force is having to redraft its policy on the management of asbestos and carry out surveys on hundreds of properties.

A memo seen by this newspaper describes the task as “onerous”.

George McIrvine, a branch secretary at the Unison trade union, which represents police staff, said:

“It is disappointing that it has taken the intervention of the HSE to highlight the shortfalls in the asbestos management systems within Police Scotland. The branch has been working with Police Scotland to address the issues contained within the improvement notice to ensure that the workplace is safe for our staff and officers as well as other visitors to police premises.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our members is paramount and we will continue to effectively challenge the organisation to ensure that these issues are addressed in a timely manner, whatever the cost and that a situation such as this does not happen again.”

John Gillies, the Director of People and Development at Police Scotland, said: “We take the health and safety of our staff very seriously, and are working with unions, staff associations and the HSE to develop and deploy the appropriate action plans in relation to the management of asbestos. We are committed to providing a safe working environment for our officers, staff and members of the public and are fully co-operating with the HSE to ensure the appropriate action is taken to achieve this.”

The force also confirmed work is under way to determine how many sites have to be surveyed.

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “During inspections of Police Scotland premises, HSE found inadequate arrangements in relation to the management of asbestos and an improvement notice was served requiring remedial action to be taken. Further visits will be paid to assess compliance.”