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October 27, 2011

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Appearance on TV led to appearance in court

A Cambridgeshire stonemasonry contractor has been in the dock after it featured in a BBC2 television programme.

Atelier 109 Ltd had quantities of hazardous stone dust at its Peterborough premises more than three times the maximum legally-safe level, a local court heard.

The dangerous practice was spotted by a viewer when the firm appeared on Monty Don’s Mastercrafts programme on BBC2 in March 2010. The individual contacted the HSE to express his concern over the inadequate precautions taken to protect workers from silica dust, which can cause serious lung diseases.

The court was told that HSE inspectors had first visited the company’s workshop on 6 May 2010, serving an Improvement Notice (IN) on 24 May, which compelled Atelier to take immediate action to cut exposure to stonemasonry dust to within the legal limit.

When a further check was made on 5 November 2010, it was clear that, although improvements had been made, a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system at the firm had still not been thoroughly examined and tested, so a second IN was served.

However, a third visit by HSE inspectors on 16 June 2011 revealed that the recommended action had not been carried out, despite earlier tests revealing that dust quantities in the workshop were between 100 and 300 per cent the level deemed safe by law.

Alison Ashworth, the investigating HSE inspector who prosecuted the case in court, told SHP:  “There is a large number of measures the firm could have taken to control exposure to stonemasonry dust. It could have considered using stone with a lower silica content; it could have segregated the very dusty processes from the rest of the workshop when power tools were being used; it could have pre-soaked the stone before cutting it; or it could have cleaned the area by vacuuming, or using damp cloths.”

The inspector said that although the company did have an extraction system in place it had not been enclosed by walls or a roof, and so it had not been effective.

The company mitigated that it had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, it had cooperated with the HSE’s investigation, and had been experiencing genuine difficulty in finding a suitable engineer to put the system right. It also said it sent larger pieces of stone to France to be cut, rather than cutting them in its workshop. 

After the first IN, the company said it had taken actions to improve control. It also said it had provided storage for dust-covered respiratory protective equipment outside the workshop and had started vacuuming the area. But Inspector Ashworth said that the improvements the company made did not meet the standards she expected. The LEV system was inadequate and had only been put in place after her first visit.

She commented: “Atelier was happy to get its moment on television, but rather less quick to protect its employees from a wholly avoidable risk that can have serious consequences and cause respiratory diseases.

“We understand the pressure that small businesses are under and this company was given ample opportunity on a number of occasions to make the necessary improvements. HSE only brought this prosecution when it became clear that the company was dragging its heels and failing to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserved.”

Atelier pleaded guilty on 25 October at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court to breaching s33(1)(g) of the HSWA 1974 by contravening the requirements of an Improvement Notice. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay full costs of £1400.

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12 years ago

Ahh! This must be one of the SME’s that Cameron was talking about – let the company and its directors get on with it I think he said. Save a few bob on RPE and extraction and let us – the taxpayers cover all the medical and benefits costs for the illnesses he has caused to his employees. Don’t worry about the employees. The answer is simple; If you can’t manage safely, then, you simply can’t manage!! Well done anonymous vewer, there should be more people like you!

12 years ago

Interesting case: Small company so a relatively small fine and £1400 costs, but soon the HSE will charge for visits: Consider this:

HSE time – 3 visits, at say, 6 hrs = 18 hours, improvement notices, follow up letters, consultations with senior HSE officers, say 20 hrs, and eventually a prosecution involving time preparing paperwork, briefing lawyers, etc. results in £5K fine (to the Exchequer) and £1400 costs to HSE, where as 28 hours at £133/hour would have raised over £5K for the HSE.