Court cases are frequently reported of building firms and premises owners who simply choose to ignore or downplay their asbestos awareness of the health dangers involved, however minimal a risk they consider a possible exposure to be.

The desire to quickly complete a refurbishment or demolition of a premises and avoid additional time and labour expense can override health and safety considerations in a number of cases.

However, failure to carry out the required management surveys or properly dispose of any discovered asbestos containing materials (ACMs) due to a lack of communication, error or oversight between the various contractors and their employees may be one thing.

It’s quite another when a deliberate act of deception is carried out, as was reported in a recent case of a South London asbestos removal firm who operated without a licence and altered an air analysis certificate to falsely show the premises had passed a safety check.

According to an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an asbestos removal contractor who operated as a sole trader, failed to properly remove, clean and decontaminate all the asbestos insulation discovered in a boiler room at a north London residence, and left behind visible signs of asbestos fibres.

A subsequent air analysis of the room, as required under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, found an unacceptable level of asbestos contamination remaining and a certificate of failure was issued. However, the contractor changed the certificate to show the homeowners that the area was safe to re-enter and commence work.

As a result, a prosecution was brought against the contractor, who pleaded guilty of three breaches of the asbestos regulations and was given a six month prison sentence on each charge, to run concurrently. In addition a total of £21,500, including costs, was ordered to be paid and an electronic curfew tag to be attached for three months.

The use of white asbestos fibres in cement products, pipe lagging and wall board insulation was a common practice in the building trade up until the late 1970s and early 80s prior to a final ban being introduced in 1999. Many private properties over 25 years old may still contain asbestos containing materials, which if disturbed can release their fibres and stay airborne for a considerable period of time.

Once inhaled, asbestos fibres can stay permanently attached to the lung linings, eventually causing asbestosis disease or the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer.

The HSE report that more than 1.8 million people are still exposed to asbestos every year, thus making the risk of asbestos-related disease still of crucial concern to the many, and not to be wilfully ignored as too often demonstrated by reckless behaviour of the single individual.