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Firms fined for asbestos exposure risk at scrap yard and naval training base

A number of workers and Royal Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos after pipes lined with the dangerous material were left on a roadside before being put in an open skip and transferred to a salvage yard, a court has heard.

The pipes, lined with asbestos insulation, were removed from HMS Sultan naval training base in Gosport in September 2009 as part of works to replace a hot water system.

Portsmouth Magistrates' Court was told today (20 March 2013) that Southampton-based VT Flagship Ltd was responsible for the works as the main contractor for the HMS Sultan site.

The company contracted Hertfordshire-based PPSL District Energy Limited to remove the pipes and associated materials before PPSL in turn employed a local welding firm and pipe fitter to undertake the work.

Magistrates heard that the old pipes were stacked by the side of the road at the base before they were placed in an open metal recycling skip and transferred to Demolition and Salvage Ltd in Hilsea.

The salvage firm contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 20 October 2009 after discovering their premises was contaminated with asbestos from the pipes.

A subsequent HSE investigation identified that both VT Flagship and PPSL had failed to identify the presence of asbestos in the pipes as a result of inaccurate assumptions and failures to undertake thorough checks and surveys.

The insulation material should have been properly identified and safely removed and disposed of by a licensed asbestos removal specialist.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Adam Wycherley said:

"Before anyone undertakes any demolition or refurbishment works they must take appropriate steps to ensure they have reliable information regarding the materials they are dealing with, an essential requirement that is specifically in place to identify the presence of asbestos.

"VT Flagship and PPSL District Energy both failed in this regard. They wrongly assumed there was no asbestos without carrying out proper checks to back that up with hard evidence.

"As a result a number of workers for several different companies, as well as passing Navy personnel, were put at unnecessary risk. Anyone walking past the pipes could have inhaled fibres as they became airborne, and they posed a major contamination hazard.

"Thousands of people die every year as a result of asbestos-related disease, and duty holders cannot afford to take any chances or make assumptions."

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Further information on the dangers posed by asbestos can be found online at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos


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