HSE prosecutes freight firm for failing to deal with asbestos threat… A freight firm in Redditch, the managing director of the firm and a contractor hired by the firm have all been prosecuted for exposing at least 20 people to the potentially lethal risks of asbestos fibres.
The firm had been working on converting a unit on Hemming Road in Redditch into a new business headquarters and storage facility for AFG. The architect employed by AFG had already identified the need to demolish the partition walls in the building and to remove the asbestos insulation boards contained in the walls and had obtained estimates for the removal of the dangerous asbestos material from three licensed contractors. However the managing director of the freight firm decided to give the job to a builder who was already on site and who was not licensed to carry out the delicate work associated with asbestos removal.
The man along with two of his colleagues removed almost 1.5 tonnes of asbestos insulation board from the building before disposing it in April and May 2008. Five months later, two other companies working on the site who were being employed to demolish a part of the building and to build an extension, noticed that pieces of asbestos insulation board remained in the floor and were also attached to retaining screws on the walls – they immediately contacted the HSE.
The subsequent HSE investigation determined that the site was contaminated with asbestos fibres and a specialist licensed asbestos contractor was called in to decontaminate the site as should have been the case previously. The HSE also discovered that at least 20 workers had used the site in the five months since the original botched asbestos removal job was carried out. The dangers of inhaling the asbestos fibres during those five months could lead to serious long-term illnesses for the affected workers and they faced uncertain and worrying futures as a result of the asbestos exposure.
Tariq Khan, a HSE Inspector who worked on the case said:
“As a result of the appalling failings of the company and two individuals concerned, at least 20 people now have to live with the knowledge they have been exposed to asbestos. This type of exposure could cause life-threatening illnesses in years to come but because it takes so long to develop, these people will be left with years of uncertainty.
“AFG and Simon Poole knew that asbestos insulation board was present in the walls and presumably knew they should get an appropriately qualified person to dispose of it, having received estimates from three properly licensed contractors. Regardless of safety, they instructed Ronald MacPhee to remove it.
“Mr MacPhee should never have carried out the work, and his partial removal of the asbestos insulation board left the site in an even less safe state than before, as it was contaminated with fibres.
“Only licensed contractors are allowed to remove asbestos insulating board. If we find evidence of anyone who does not have a licence working with asbestos, we will not hesitate to bring enforcement action.
“It is no excuse to claim ignorance of the law, especially as there is a wealth of advice and information available from HSE free of charge.”
The freight company pleaded guilty today to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £26,147 costs at Worcester Crown Court. The managing director of the company was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £26,147 costs and the local builder was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £500 costs after both pleaded guilty to breaches of the same Act.
Asbestos is the single largest cause of occupational deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 deaths every year resulting from related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.