Widespread, wilful disregard often competed with lack of asbestos awareness by British industry to the deadly health risks of exposure and breathing in of airborne fibre dust particles throughout most of the twentieth century.

The horrific legacy of countless thousands of unprotected men and women still claims at least 2,000 lives who are diagnosed with the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer each year.

Despite of all the continuously repeated campaigns, training advice and legislation by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and many other national organisations and construction industry professionals, never a week seems to pass when a case of deliberate neglect of asbestos removal procedures does not come to court. In most instances, there has been a total disregard or lack of communication surrounding the presence of asbestos containing materials (ACMs), such as wallboard, insulation and roofing, often found in buildings built or renovated up to the 1980s and 90s.

While white chrysotile asbestos fibres were originally considered “low risk” even when imports were banned in 1999, nevertheless, they are now classed as carcinogenic. Asbestos fibres can still remain embedded in the pleural linings and asbestosis symptoms only appear after a period of between 15 to 50 years has elapsed.

There can be few tradesmen who would not know that exposure to all asbestos is still a high enough risk and therefore, requires the mandatory surveys, proper protection and disposal procedures to be carried out.

Flagrant disregard…

In the latest example of a flagrant disregard of all necessary procedures, a Nottinghamshire property developer, who knew that potentially dangerous ACMs were present in a former school premises being converted to a retirement home, but chose instead to ignore all advice on its safe removal.

According to HSE, one of their inspectors visited the premises and “identified the type of building, which is known to contain asbestos”, and advised the developer on follow-up action required to comply with Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 for its safe removal.

However, only days later, a complaint was received by HSE that the asbestos was not being removed in the required manner and, consequently, the developer was then instructed to carry out an asbestos survey and arrange for licensed removal.

However, two months later another HSE visit found that building rubble containing asbestos had not been properly disposed of and a Prohibition Notice was immediately served. All work liable to disturb the asbestos was also to be stopped and a direction to ‘Leave Undisturbed’ imposed.

HSE Notice ignored…

Incredibly, five months on and a further visit by HSE revealed that the Prohibition Notice had been ignored and workers were observed placing the AIB (asbestos insulation board) into skips and ‘dry sweeping’ asbestos dust, which caused airborne clouds of dust particles to spread throughout the site. It was also reported that besides the wearing of disposable overalls and face masks, no other control measures were in force to comply with regulations and provide full exposure protection.

According to HSE, there had been, “… a wilful disregard for the health and safety of… employees and others. Our investigation uncovered a catalogue of serious errors, safety failings and a general ignorance of the laws around the safe and correct removal of asbestos.”

The developer pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, and Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was given an eight month, suspended prison sentence for the breach of the Prohibition notice and fined a total of £ 100,000 including court costs.

Unfortunately, the deliberate refusal to comply or disregard today’s statutory Regulations, which is part of a building worker’s formal skills training, makes an all too regular appearance at court hearings.