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Hostel hit with £44k court bill for lack of asbestos survey

A 'minefield' of asbestos risk confronted construction workers at a Northern Quarter hostel, a health and safety prosecution has heard.

Directors of Hatters Hostel Ltd, the company behind Hatters Hostel on Newton Street, have been hit with fines and court costs of over £44,000.

Manchester Crown Court heard workers could have been exposed to the harmful substance - which causes life-threatening injury years afterwards - after a failure to commission an asbestos survey before a basement refurbishment project began in the 19th Century building.

The Health and Safety breach was discovered by a random health and safety inspection at the former bowler hat factory, where the basement was being converted into a 'tavern'.

By then, the work had been underway for eight months and involved workers from six firms.

It is not known if any workers were exposed to asbestos at Hatters.

No asbestos was found on the three walls which had been renovated at the time of the inspection - and it's impossible to say if there was any because the potential evidence was destroyed by the project.

But asbestos was found on a 20 sq m section which had not yet been stripped out, in the form of fire retardant textured paint. If that paint had been disturbed, workers would have been at risk of contracting the lethal conditions asbestosis and mesothelioma years down the line.

A judge hearing the case said Hatters' health and safety record was otherwise "impeccable", but added that asbestos was "a killer" and assessments should have been carried out.

Opening the case against them at Manchester Crown Court, prosecutor Joseph Hart said: "The workers working on that basement are sent into an environment where there are potential areas of asbestos, just as a soldier is sent into a minefield without a map.

"The survey would have provided a map as to where there is asbestos. It's such an obvious duty to have one when the risks of asbestos are so plainly known within the industry. It's a critical failing - it's a 19th Century building, almost inevitably there was going to be some asbestos. We don't know how many workers were exposed, it could have been two people who stripped out the whole of the basement over the course of a year, or more likely a large number of people in a short period of time."

Sentencing, Judge Jinder Singh Boora said there was no evidence "a large number of workers" were exposed or that any members of the public were exposed, adding that the company's health and safety record was otherwise "impeccable".

He added: "It's absolutely essential for companies to perform risk assessments. What's even more important is if the risk assessment relates to risk which, if it manifests, will lead to either serious injury or death. Asbestos is a killer. If one contracts asbestosis or mesothelioma, death is almost inevitable."

HSE inspector Matt Greenly said after the case: "The requirement to have a suitable asbestos survey is clear and well known throughout the construction industry. Only by knowing if asbestos is present in any building before works commence can a contractor ensure that people working on their site are not exposed to these deadly fibres.

"The cost of an asbestos survey is not great but the legacy facing anyone who worked on this site is immeasurable. They now have to live with the realisation that due to the lack of care taken by Hatters Hostel Limited and Hatters Taverns Limited they may face a life shortening disease at some point over the next 30+ years from an exposure which was totally preventable. This case sends a clear message to any company that it does not pay to ignore well known risks on site."

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