It would seem that a growing number of companies are being prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive for their failings to manage asbestos safely during building work.
Manchester Magistrates Court prosecuted two companies following an unannounced visit which found that no asbestos survey had been undertaken prior to work being commenced. It was subsequently found that asbestos had been identified in concrete panels removed from the front of the building. After an asbestos assessment was carried out, asbestos was found throughout the site and a licenced asbestos removal company was brought in to safely remove the asbestos. The companies and director was were fined £17,000 plus costs.
In another case, a hotel in Newquay was being partially demolished and rebuilt. Asbestos surveys had identified the the presence of asbestos materials within the hotel but these were not managed effectively or removed by licenced contractors before the work was started. The court heard that one of the owners of the hotel had stripped some of the asbestos himself. The law requires that asbestos should be identified, risk assessed and removed in a controlled, safe manner by licenced contractors who would minimse the risk of injury to not only their own employees, but also members of the public. The builders were fined £22,000 and the co owner was fined £7,500 plus costs.
Cambridge Magistrates Court heard in a separate case that employees from Newham College along with subcontractors were refurbishing a flat owned by the college. Asbestos was discovered in the floor voids after work had already been carried out in the area. No asbestos survey had been carried out prior to the work starting. The court heard that an employee was exposed to asbestos during the work and this had contaminated his clothes and gloves. The college were fined £12,000 plus costs.
These cases only serve to highlight the need for companies to undertake asbestos surveys before starting work. Whilst the removal of asbestos can be expensive, the threat to health of employees, workers and member of the public is paramount when dealing with a potentially lethal material. Many workers are given no asbestos awareness training and do not know what to look for when they are instructed to enter properties and start refurbishment works. Often it is only with unannounced visits from the HSE or better trained contractors coming onto site that the presence of asbestos identified.
There is no known safe limit for exposure to asbestos and in fact relatively small levels of asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused through the inhalation of asbestos fibres and dust. Asbestos can sit in the lungs for decades before symptoms present themselves and often by that time the companies who exposed their workers without adequate protection have long since closed and cannot be located. It is important if you feel you have been exposed to asbestos you note down the incidents and the name and address of your employer. You may also wish to ask your employer for their insurance details as this information would be invaluable 30 or 40 years down the line should any symptoms arise. WE Solicitors would be happy to register these details on our Asbestos Register and will send you a questionnaire to complete should you ever require the information in the future.
If you require further information please contact Steven Evans on freephone 0800 294 3065 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.