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February 15, 2011

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Construction boss "failed to control" asbestos exposure

The director of a construction company has admitted putting his employees and the public at risk during the demolition of a church in Kent.

The HSE received a complaint from a member of the public about demolition work taking place on the corner of Holborough Road in Snodland, near Rochester. Bernard Berry, wanted to build flats on the site, which he owned, and used his own company, Berry Estates Development Ltd, as the principal contractor to demolish the church.

On 23 April 2010, two HSE inspectors visited the site and found asbestos debris scattered across the site, including on a pedestrian pavement. They asked Berry to produce an asbestos survey, a demolition plan, a method statement and a risk assessment, but he was unable to provide any of the documents. The inspectors immediately issued a Prohibition Notice, which required work to stop until an asbestos survey had been completed and a safe system of work had been created.

HSE inspector, David Fussell, told SHP that the building had been knocked into pedestrian areas and broken up with an excavator. There was no evidence that workers at the site had received asbestos-awareness training, or been provided with PPE.

Inspector Fussell said: “The company failed to take any measures aimed at controlling the workers’ exposure to asbestos and reduce any future incidence of related diseases.

“This is a shocking case, as it was foreseeable that a building of this age may have had asbestos-containing materials in the building fabric, as the subsequent survey highlighted.

“If the company had carried out a survey and prepared a plan of work prior to demolition, the risk of exposure to the workers on site or the general public could have been avoided.”

Berry Estates Development Limited appeared at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court on 8 February and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 5, reg. 7 and reg. 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. It was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £3391 towards costs.

Bernard Berry also pleaded guilty to the same charges and was fined £5000. He was also ordered to pay £3391 in costs.

In mitigation, Berry said that neither he nor his company had any previous convictions and he had complied with the Prohibition Notice. He has subsequently employed a health and safety consultant and carried out an asbestos survey before restarting work at the site.

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