Asbestos is present in many buildings and is usually safe if left undisturbed. However, if it is disturbed and asbestos particles are released into the air and inhaled or ingested, it can cause fatal diseases.
A contractor has been fined for safety failings after two subcontractors were unwittingly exposed to asbestos fibres at ReadingUniversity.
Gardner Mechanical Services Ltd. (GMS) had been contracted to undertake a mechanical services upgrade in a room at the University. The work was subcontracted to a Newbury-based company, which in turn hired two self-employed men, Andrew Lloyd and Steve Taylor, to carry out the work.
The two men had not been made aware of the presence of asbestos in the room and believed that all asbestos-containing material had been removed by specialist contractors prior to their work commencing. They drilled through a sprayed asbestos ceiling coating, releasing asbestos fibres into the air.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that, as the principal contractor, GMS was aware that some asbestos-containing materials were to be left on the site but had failed to pass on this information to the subcontractors. The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and Regulation 23(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined a total of £28,000 and ordered to pay £22,631 in costs.
HSE Inspector Adam Wycherley said, “This case highlights the importance of effective planning when addressing risks in construction, particularly in refurbishment, where there is a higher risk of coming into contact with asbestos.
“Gardner Mechanical Services had a clear duty of care to relay important information to its subcontractors in a reliable manner in order to prevent their exposure to asbestos, but this simply did not happen.
“As a result of poor planning on the part of GMS, two men were exposed to high levels of asbestos fibres, leaving them at risk of contracting serious diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis of the lungs.”
Information on working safely with asbestos can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.