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Council and building firm fined for asbestos exposure during school refurbishment

Staffordshire County Council and a refurbishment firm have been fined for exposing a nursery class, school staff and two joiners to asbestos fibres.

Rugeley firm G Evans (Services) Ltd was refurbishing Glenthorne Community Primary School in Cheslyn Hay for the council when the incident happened on Friday 13 February 2009.

Stafford Crown Court heard two joiners were cutting through a large built-in cupboard in the nursery class when they noticed unidentified material nailed to the back of it.

They showed this to their site manager, who allowed them to carry on dismantling the cupboard and to detach the material. However, the material was asbestos insulating board, which by law should only be moved by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. The court heard the joiners used an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clear up dust and debris, which would also have spread asbestos fibres in the air.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident found Staffordshire County Council had failed to carry out a pre-refurbishment asbestos survey in the nursery before work started. These surveys were essential to ensure that anyone who was likely to work or disturb asbestos was provided with information on the location and condition of the asbestos.

G Evans (Services) Ltd had not taken sufficient steps to identify the asbestos insulating board attached to the cupboard before work started and its procedures for identifying asbestos containing materials were inadequate which permitted their site manager to assume the material was safe to work with and to continue disturbing it. The court heard the work should have been stopped until the material had been investigated further.

HSE inspector David Brassington said after the hearing:

"A series of assumptions and missed opportunities led to contractors, school staff and nursery age children being exposed to asbestos fibres during refurbishment work.

"The joiners who were working directly with the asbestos were significantly exposed to the disturbed fibres- something that should not have happened with proper planning and access to an asbestos survey before work commenced.

"The long term health risks associated with exposure to asbestos dust are well known and it is unacceptable for incidents such as this to be taking place."

Staffordshire County Council, of Tipping Street, Stafford, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was today (14 December) fined £10,000and ordered to pay £5,000 costs.

G Evans (Services) Ltd, of Wheelhouse Road, The Towers, Rugeley, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs.

Asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year from related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Information on working safely with asbestos is available at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/hiddenkiller/index.htm

 

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