Students at Berridale Public School might have been exposed to asbestos as workers cut into bonded asbestos sheeting during the first week of the new school year.

The school is on the NSW Government School Asbestos Register and the room was listed as being presumed to have asbestos present.

WorkCover NSW confirmed it visited the school, located between Cooma and Jindabyne, after parents raised concerns.

Contractors hired by the NSW Department of Education were installing airconditioning in a demountable building at the school on Wednesday last week when students returned for their first day. They drilled into the ceiling, which contained bonded asbestos.

WorkCover said that according to its investigations, the workmen only “discovered potential asbestos-containing material while drilling into the ceiling”.

In 2008, the NSW Department of Education launched a $3 million asbestos register to reduce risk of exposure to the toxic substance.

It is not known whether the workmen were aware of the asbestos before they began drilling. But WorkCover said they stopped work immediately and attempted to restrict the entry of children to the site. The demountable building is used as a lunch room when it is raining and students were inside that day, because it was raining.

WorkCover said the students were moved to another building and access to the demountable building was cut off. Asbestos warning stickers and barriers were then erected.

One parent, who did not wish to be named, said she assumed work was only halted because WorkCover had been notified.

She said it was not good enough that children had been in and around the area while fibres had potentially been released into the atmosphere. She also questioned why the work was not completed during the holidays.

“What I don’t understand is how work began on this site when it is listed on a public registry as having presumed asbestos.”

A spokesman for WorkCover NSW said a licensed asbestos removalist undertook testing on the building and the asbestos was removed. A clearance certificate had been issued by an occupational hygienist.

“WorkCover is satisfied that the school and contractor have acted in accordance with work health and safety laws.”

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said “the work to install airconditioning in the school’s two demountable classrooms was carried out in accordance with the department’s Asbestos Management Plan and WorkCover NSW requirements”.

“The department has received a clearance certificate for the subject area. WorkCover has inspected the site and will provide a written report to the school when it is ready. The school principal is keeping parents informed about the situation.”

Meanwhile, work to remediate asbestos contamination at Copper Tom Point on Lake Jindabyne has been delayed by wet weather.

Work was due to be completed by the end of February, and members of the public have been asked to avoid the area until the remediation works are complete.