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Surrey firm in court after asbestos find at girls’ school

Date:
13 January 2014

A building contractor has been fined for ignoring asbestos safety rules after the potentially deadly material was discovered in a basement area at the independent Woldingham girls’ school in Caterham.

Buxton Building Contractors Ltd, which was carrying out refurbishment work at the school in 2011, had commissioned a specialist survey to identify the presence of asbestos in the undercroft part of the building, but then failed to act when the results were positive.

The firm allowed a number of different contractors, including a teenage apprentice, to work in the area until one worker raised the alarm himself when he broke through the ceiling and exposed asbestos insulation boarding.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident, which came to light on 21 July 2011, and today (13 January) prosecuted the company for safety breaches.

Guildford Crown Court was told that Buxton Building Contractors Ltd was the principal contractor for a scheme to remodel the school’s dining area and kitchen. The firm had asked a surveyor to look specifically at the undercroft area as it had been omitted from an earlier asbestos report.

HSE’s investigation found the survey had highlighted the presence of the hazardous material, however, Buxton Building Contractors had failed to act either to deal with it or to provide any safeguards on site. It had allowed unrestricted access by a variety of other workers, including a 19-year-old apprentice electrician who had been working in the undercroft for at least two weeks.

After the worker discovered the presence of the asbestos insulation board, the area was sealed off by a licensed asbestos contractor.

Buxton Building Contractors Ltd, of High Street, Caterham, Surrey, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £26,217 after admitting a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to plan, manage and properly monitor the construction work at the school.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said:

“This was a serious failing on the part of the company. Having correctly commissioned an asbestos survey, it looks as though no one at Buxton Contractors Ltd bothered to read it. Or if they did, they disregarded its contents and failed to act to protect site workers from exposure to what is one of the deadly killers in the construction industry.

“As a result, several people, including the young apprentice, were unnecessarily exposed to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres.  One can only wish and hope that there are no serious consequences for these workers in the future.

“It is vital that companies are fully aware of not just the duty to get an asbestos survey done, but then to act on its findings. There is considerable guidance freely available from HSE to assist duty-holders deal with asbestos materials properly.”

For advice and guidance, visit http://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. http://www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 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.”

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