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March 13, 2013

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NHS Trust didn’t warn maintenance workers about presence of asbestos 

A serious management failing led to two contractors being exposed to asbestos during repairs at a hospital in Belfast.

The floor repairs took place in the estates building at the Belfast City Hospital on 14 January 2011. Two construction workers were instructed to remove a section of a ceiling in an office block, in order to gain access to the floor above. 
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) had previously carried out asbestos surveys of its buildings, and the estates building was known to contain asbestos, but this information was not passed on to its maintenance contractors. 

When the workers sawed through the ceiling they broke an asbestos insulation board. One of the men recognised that the debris was likely to contain asbestos, so they left the room and informed their supervisor.

By the time the HSENI was notified of the incident, the BHSCT had engaged a licenced contractor to remove the debris and decontaminate the room. The subsequent investigation by the regulator found members of the Trust’s management hadn’t been provided adequate training on the management of asbestos.

HSENI inspector Hugh Moss said: “This case highlights the importance of not only having accurate and up-to-date asbestos surveys carried out, but also ensuring that this information is given to anyone who carries out work on premises that are known to contain asbestos. 

“There is no such thing as a safe level of asbestos and cases like this should serve to remind tradesmen and those involved in maintenance activities that asbestos remains a significant danger to their health.”

BHSCT appeared at Laganside Crown Court on 11 March and pleaded guilty to breaching article 4(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Order (NI) 1978, for failing to protect workers; article 5(1) of the same Order; and reg.4(9)(c)(i) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) (2007), for not managing the risks of asbestos. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1750 in costs.

Delivering his sentence, Judge Kinny said: “In this case, the dangers were obvious. Despite there being an asbestos survey, there was no system in place for checking that it was put into action. An asbestos plan has little value if it is not enforced.”
After the hearing, a spokesperson from the Trust said: “Like many organisations, we have to actively manage the asbestos that was used in the construction of older buildings. We have considerable expertise in this and it is unfortunate that on this occasion our arrangements broke down. This was a localised incident and in no way put patients, or the public at risk. We will remain focused on managing all health and safety risks in our estates.”

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10 years ago

This was a localised incident and in no way put patients, or the public at risk.

So workers exposure is acceptable is it?

Had the contractor not been observant once exposing the asbestos source, this may not have been the case.

How did a contractor gain access to an area that contined asbestos given the stated exoertise? Adoption of a Permit To Work should remove this issue completely?

No admission of remorse or opolgy for the failure from an NHS Trust, says it all really?