It seems inevitable that 2012 should prepare to shortly bow out accompanied by the news reports of two further cases of asbestos-related negligence. Once again, the actions of building contractors seem to display their lack of asbestos awareness to the significance of the potential health risks attached to an incorrect disposal of the deadly material.
Failure to carry out the proper procedures for safe disposal of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) as clearly set out in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006/12 has continued to have been a consistent theme throughout 2012. Despite of repeated campaigns by the Health and Safety Executive, such as “Hidden Killer” and “Asbestos Essentials”, not a week passes without another trade firm appearing in court for flouting the regulations.
Almost inevitably, asbestos exposure cases seem to always occur in school premises where young pupils are present or residential estates where entire families of tenants are at risk of being exposed to breathing in airborne fibre dust.
Recently, Staffordshire County Council and a refurbishment firm were fined for exposing seventeen children aged between three and four in a nursery class, two school staff and two tradesmen to asbestos fibres. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed that the Council had failed to carry out the required management survey for asbestos prior to the refurbishment being carried out.
When asbestos material was uncovered by two contractors and shown to a site manager, the refurbishment work was simply allowed to continue and the waste debris and dust simply disposed of by a domestic vacuum cleaner. At the hearing, both Staffordshire County Council and the refurbishment company pleaded guilty to breaching different sections of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and fined a total of £27,000 including costs.
In the second case, the HSE found that plumbers working on a major refurbishment project on flats in Aberystwyth had failed to determine if a previous management survey had been carried out for identifying the presence of asbestos. Subsequently, the contractors went on to remove over eighty metres of cement board, which a previous survey had identified as ‘presumed to contain asbestos’, by simply breaking it up with a hammer and using a wheelbarrow to transfer to a general waste skip.
Unsurprisingly, the contractors had also failed to make the necessary asbestos disposal plan and also hired a site manager who had not received asbestos awareness training. The firm pleaded guilty at the hearing to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £8,830 including costs.
Every year, at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the UK and 1.8 million people are exposed to asbestos. Builders, related occupational tradesmen and ordinary members of the public, young and old are in the frontline of exposure every single time.
Yet, lack of asbestos awareness, training, or deliberate flouting of the regulations continues unabated, often to simply save time and money. Unfortunately, 2013 may not see any significant improvement and prosecutions will continue to be heard in court.