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Firm in court for failing to communicate known asbestos risk

Date:
8 May 2014

A Battersea building firm has been fined for failing to highlight the known presence of asbestos insulating board (AIB) at a Berkshire warehouse – exposing a foreman and others to potential harm when it was ripped out during refurbishment work.

Redwood Contractors Ltd was in possession of a detailed asbestos survey that clearly identified the location of the asbestos wall panels inside the building at Molly Millars Close in Wokingham.

However, the survey wasn’t shared with the team on the ground. So when a foreman mistook the AIB for asbestos cement – a lower risk material – it was removed without adequate control measures and protective equipment.

The communication breakdown was identified by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which today (8 May 2014) prosecuted Redwood Contractors Ltd after investigating the contamination of the warehouse with asbestos in December 2011.

Reading Magistrates’ Court heard that AIB should only be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor because of the risk of exposure to the dangerous fibres contained within it.

HSE established that the site foreman wasn’t provided with any documentation or other information about the panels. This was despite an asbestos survey being completed just two months prior to the work starting.

Because the foreman was unaware that the panels were made from AIB, the wrong kind of control measures were in place when he removed them. He and others could therefore have unwittingly inhaled asbestos fibres, which can cause terminal health conditions.

Redwood Contractors Ltd, of Battersea Rise, London, SW11, was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,857 in costs after pleading guilty to two separate breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Karen Morris commented:

“It is disappointing that the foreman and others were needlessly put at risk simply because the asbestos survey for the warehouse wasn’t supplied to the team on the ground, or the location of the AIB relayed.

“What is the point of having a suitable survey in hand if you aren’t going to act on it and share vital information with those who need to know? Sadly, breakdowns in communication of this kind are all too common, but that doesn’t excuse Redwood Contractors from failing to do more.

“The company is guilty of a clear oversight that may have compromised the future health and wellbeing of its workers. Everyone knows that asbestos is a potential killer, and the onus is on duty holders to implement proper control measures at all times when dealing with asbestos.”

Further information on working safely with asbestos can be found online 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. Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states: “An employer shall not undertake work in demolition, maintenance, or any other work which exposes or is liable to expose his employees to asbestos in respect of any premises unless either: (a) he has carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos, what type of asbestos, contained in what material and in what condition is present or is liable to be present in those premises; or (b) if there is doubt as to whether asbestos is present in those premises he (i) assumes that asbestos is present, and that it is not chrysotile alone, and  (ii)observes the applicable provisions of these Regulations.”
  3. Regulation 11 covers prevention or reduction of exposure to asbestos. Details here: COA Regs 2006 Sec 11

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