Two firms fined for potential asbestos risk

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A metal re-cycling firm and two of its directors have been fined, along with the company who contracted them to remove some steel work.

The steel, which included several pipe work systems covered in lagging containing potentially dangerous asbestos fibres, was removed by workers from the re-cycling firm without the firm having in place any measures to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres, therefore putting workers at risk of exposure to asbestos.

During the case, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the Court that inspectors visited the site after a complaint was received from a worker at a neighbouring premises and an investigation was carried out.

During the site visit, HSE inspectors found a significant amount of pipe work and damaged insulation scattered on the ground with one of the directors of the re-cycling firm operating equipment to move steel work from the ground into a skip.

This lead to a Prohibition Notice being served on the firm to prevent further work. In addition, an Improvement Notice was also served on the contracting company requiring it to carry out an asbestos survey and develop a system to ensure the results were shared with those likely to disturb any asbestos.

Tests carried out by the HSE later confirmed that the insulation debris found lying on the ground did contain asbestos.

The court heard that the contracting company failed to ensure information about the location and condition of asbestos materials was provided to those liable to disturb it and that the re-cycling firm had conducted the work without carrying out the necessary assessment to determine whether asbestos was present and had failed to take any measures to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres.

The work carried out by the re-cycling firm meant asbestos debris was scattered over the working area, which exposed workers on the site and on neighbouring sites to a potential risk to their health.

The court was also told that one of the directors of the re-cycling firm had negotiated an arrangement with the site manager to take the value of the scrap metal as payment for the work.

It was the personal involvement of both directors that meant they too were prosecuted as individuals.

The re-cycling firm was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay almost £4,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. Their two directors were also fined and ordered to pay costs totalling almost £2,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the same legislation.

The contracting company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay more than £2,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the same legislation. Speaking after the case, an HSE Inspector said:

“Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and there is a lot of industry in the area that still uses, or occupies premises that have old chemical processing plant dating back to the 60’s.

Almost all of it was lagged with asbestos in those days. Site operators and contractors working at these sites should always assume that old pipe work is lagged with asbestos unless there is reliable evidence that says otherwise. Those involved in the construction and refurbishment industry also have a clear duty to ensure that work is managed, so as to prevent the spread of asbestos.

This incident occurred because [the contracting company’s] asbestos management systems did not include anything relating to informing others of the presence of asbestos on the site. [The re-cycling company] failed to carry out an asbestos assessment before starting work and did not take any measures to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres.

This put the directors themselves, their own employees and others working nearby at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres and the court agreed that both companies were equally culpable for the offences.”

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