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July 26, 2017

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In-court

Asbestos: £1m-worth of fines following incident

Three companies have been fined a total of more than £1m after workers were exposed to asbestos while refurbishing a school in Waltham Forest.

Southwark Crown Court heard that on 24 July 2012 a worker removed part of a suspended ceiling in one of the ground floor refurbished rooms at St Mary’s school and identified suspect asbestos containing materials. Asbestos fibres were subsequently found in numerous areas in the school.

The court heard the London Borough of Waltham Forest had a contract with NPS London Limited to manage development and refurbishment of its estate.

At the time of the incident the principal contractor for the work was Mansell Construction Services (aka Balfour Beatty) and the subcontractor was Squibb Group Limited.

Not checked

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that although an asbestos survey was completed, there were multiple caveats and disclaimers which were not appropriately checked.

Balfour Beatty Regional Construction Limited (previously Mansell Construction Services Limited) of Canary Wharf, London was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £32,364.84 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

NPS London Limited, of Business Park Norwich, Norfolk was fined £370,000 and ordered to pay £32,364.84 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Multitude of caveats

Squibb Group Limited, of Stanford Le Hope, Essex was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £175,000 after being found guilty after a trial of a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Sarah Robinson said: “The principal contractor and contractors on site did not review the survey report in detail, and did not take into consideration the multitude of caveats.

“Therefore the work undertaken did not adopt the high standards of control expected for working where there was the potential to expose workers to asbestos.”

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I am astonished how this has gone, as with all refurbishment, a Refurb asbestos survey was commissioned, however it was littered with disclaimers and caveats. What was the point therefore in the survey? All refurb type surveys should inspect all affected areas; destructively if necessary. Ceiling voids are relatively easy to inspect so don’t understand why they were caveated out.

Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp

Caveats in Refurb surveys are a big issue. Despite changes to CAR 2012 which was supposed to reduce caveats the practice continues unabated. This is an area where the HSE need to be more proactive in my opinion.