It is always disappointing to come across asbestos-related cases where companies and individuals are found deliberately negligent in their failure to carry out the required legal procedures when asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are found during a survey of a property before renovation or demolition.
In 2011, a UK survey found that a quarter of building contractors were unaware that they had actually come into direct contact with asbestos and just one in eight claimed to have a good working knowledge or qualifications in handling the material.
However, most often the reason is simply to save time and added expense, and any asbestos awareness, training or knowledge of the risk to themselves or others is completely ignored in the interests of short term gain.
It’s even more incredible to discover, as in a recent court case, that it was a licensed asbestos contractor and an asbestos analyst who were the individuals accused of failing to carry out legal duties as required under the Control of Asbestos Regulations. The other grim detail was the fact that the building in question was a school premises.
At Oxford Magistrates’ Court, it was heard that an environmental consultants who were contacted to undertake an assessment, had ’signed off’ on an asbestos removal job believing all work had been completed , which was based on a false report from one of its employees.
In reality, the analyst had failed to even turn up at the school to carry out the work and instead drove his van to a service station to meet the second man, a supervisor for an asbestos disposal firm, and together fabricated the asbestos removal report.
The assessment day occurred on a Sunday and it appears likely that the contractor had decided he would not bother to go work as it might mean having to wait for the results of the assessment and possibly carry out a disposal operation. In addition, it was also the analysts’ last day of employment at his company.
It was only when the plumbing engineer arrived on the Monday that the presence of asbestos was discovered and reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The two men were fined a total of £ 6,250 with costs after both pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The presence of ‘low level’ risk white asbestos, known to be still present in four million buildings around the UK, requires to be managed under mandatory legislation. Inhaled asbestos fibre dust will permanently lodge in the linings of the lungs or stomach and can cause asbestosis disease or turn tissue cells cancerous, eventually causing incurable mesothelioma between 15 to 50 years after first exposure.
More than 1.8 million people are annually exposed to asbestos with at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year, according to HSE estimates.