Asbestos has been around a long time. Its dangers have been known for many decades. Anyone who works in construction or manages buildings must surely have an awareness of the various forms in which asbestos comes. Or, so we would think.
In any case, asbestos awareness via asbestos awareness training is mandatory under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012. Regulation 10 (Information, Instruction, and Training) states this, as set out by the HSE.
For this reason, incidents of asbestos exposure are always going to involve negligence on the part of one or more parties. You simply can’t escape your obligations concerning something of this importance. Especially when the presence of asbestos is entirely predictable; making asbestos exposure almost completely avoidable if obligations are properly handled.
Construction company fined for exposing employees to asbestos
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has written this month about a construction company in Hull that was prosecuted for exposing its employees to asbestos. The details can be seen here.
The specifics are that during a shop refit, the company removed ceiling tiles on a false ceiling, having not commissioned an asbestos demolition and refurbishment survey in advance. They could not have known what was beyond the surface that they were removing. And they apparently did not know from what material the said tiles were made. But, of course, it is the duty of the building owner or other duty holder and the contracted company and its owner(s) to do so.
One of our previous blogs discussed the various regulations and duties of business owners and contractors.
It turned out that the tiles were Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB) – 1000m2 of which were removed ‘in an uncontrollable way’ over a three to four week period. The staff and any visitors or passers-by were of course then potentially exposed to asbestos fibres which are likely to have become airborne. 62 one ton sacks full of asbestos debris were scattered and then collected.
The costs of getting this wrong
The fine and costs imposed on the company totalled almost £20,000 plus their own costs during the two and a half years from incident to court ruling. Then there is the stress, the impact on ongoing operations of the business, the reputational damage, and the fact that they will not be able to successfully tender for public sector work for the foreseeable future.
It actually could have been worse. The owner of the company was not prosecuted but easily could have been. There was a case in July (details here) in which a company and its director were each fined £25,000 and the director was given a suspended prison sentence. Time in prison is certainly possible for such offences. And the fine is potentially unlimited according to the sentencing guidelines.
The HSE details a significant number of cases every year (9 this year so far that we are aware of) in which companies and individuals are held accountable for exposing others to asbestos. One from April involved a garage door fitter drilling through some AIB in the course of an installation. Here is the link.
Usually, it is the company that is fined, but it can be the director(s) who can also be prosecuted for offences that carry prison sentences.
What was the alternative?
It’s usually not cheap to remove asbestos. But, the cost of tidying up after the disturbance of asbestos is much larger.
In the above case, it is likely to cost £120,000 to clear up the mess. But that company could have saved £40,000 by having the asbestos removed by a competent organisation before it was disturbed.
Another implication is that, if using casual labour (common in the industry), it is incumbent upon all employers to check the asbestos awareness training status of all recruits. This should be built into the normal employment checks that should already be happening. Trained staff are the last line of defence before asbestos becomes disturbed and leads to exposure.
If you have individuals or groups of employees who need Asbestos Awareness Training then we can provide it. Details can be found here: