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Cheshire fertiliser firm sentenced over asbestos exposure

Date:
4 October 2013

A fertiliser manufacturer has been sentenced after around 50 workers were exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres at its plant at Ince Marshes near Ellesmere Port.

GrowHow UK Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after asbestos was discovered during the refurbishment of a 50-metre-high industrial furnace – known as the Primary Reformer – on 31 January 2011.

Chester Crown Court heard that contractors had been demolishing brickwork and insulation boards for two days, using hammers, chisels and crow bars, before a bricklayer raised concerns that asbestos may be present. This was confirmed when material from the site was taken for analysis.

The HSE investigation found GrowHow had failed to carry out an appropriate asbestos survey before allowing the project to start, despite the fact that the demolition work was likely to create large amounts of dust.

Workers had been breaking up rubble, putting it into sacks and pouring it down a chute so the sacks could be reused, without knowing the dust they were creating may have contained asbestos fibres.

Once asbestos was discovered, the workers were ordered to leave the site and all of their protective clothing and equipment was bagged up and destroyed due to the risk of contamination.

GrowHow UK Ltd was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £17,094 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to one breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 4 October 2013.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Daniel Longdon said:

“Dozens of workers at GrowHow were exposed to potentially deadly fibres because the company didn’t carry out a risk assessment to see if asbestos was present in the industrial furnace.

“They will have to live with the uncertainty for the rest of their lives of not knowing whether they will develop lung cancer or other diseases, such as mesothelioma, as a result.

“If GrowHow had arranged a proper survey ahead of the work starting then the asbestos would have been identified and a licensed contractor could have been brought in to remove it safely.”

Around 4,000 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

Asbestos fibres that are breathed in can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract, and can lead to lung cancer or other diseases. Symptoms may not appear for several decades.

Information on how to work safely with asbestos is available at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”
  3. Section 3(1) states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
  4. Regulation 4(3) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states: “In order to enable him to manage the risk from asbestos in non-domestic premises, the dutyholder shall ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment is carried out as to whether asbestos is or is liable to be present in the premises.”

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