A local authority and a building contractor left a family exposed to asbestos for three days during renovation works at a house in Lincoln.
Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard that City of Lincoln Council had contracted County Waste (Lincs) Ltd to refurbish a bathroom at a residential property. The council had identified that asbestos insulation boards were present in the room and had contacted a licensed company to remove them. But the work was never carried out and the council contacted County Waste to inspect the site to see if it was necessary for a licensed contractor to be brought in.
On 10 June 2008, one of County Waste’s workers visited the property, but instead of inspecting the boarding, he prised off the panels with a crowbar and broke them into pieces. Some of the debris was left on the bathroom floor, and the worker walked around the property for the rest of the day in clothing that may have been contaminated with asbestos fibres.
The tenant family complained to the council about the debris and a council worker visited the house on the same day to inspect the damage. He identified that the debris contained asbestos but didn’t inform the family, which was not moved to another property for three days.
City of Lincoln Council appeared in court on 3 June and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 8(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, for failing to put adequate procedures in place to protect workers, and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £12,000 in costs.
The council’s director of housing and community services, John Bibby, said: “The council has cooperated fully with the HSE in its investigation into this matter and reiterates that it is committed to achieving and maintaining the highest levels of health and safety management.
“On this occasion the council accepts that it fell below its own high standards. That failing needs to be looked at in the context of the council’s previous good safety record. The incident itself occurred in June 2008 and the council has undertaken a full review of the relevant policies and procedures, sought appropriate advice, and, where necessary, put in place changes to its procedures so that there can be no repetition of an incident of this nature.”
County Waste attended the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 10(1) and reg. 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, for not providing adequate training to workers in contact with asbestos, and for not taking steps to prevent the spread of asbestos. It also pleaded guilty to reg. 24(1)(b) of the same legislation, for failing to safely package and dispose of the debris. It was fined a total of £4250 with costs of £6000.
In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and regretted the incident. It added that the incident occurred due to an employee deciding to remove the boards, which went against the instructions it had issued. The company has subsequently provided employees with additional asbestos awareness training.
Following the hearing, HSE inspector Martin Giles said: “The council failed to ensure the contractor was competent to carry out the work and had no procedures in place to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger to its employees. It failed to protect its tenants and ensure that they were not exposed to risks to their health following the release of asbestos fibres.
“Not informing the family about the seriousness of the problem and leaving them in the property for three days before re-housing them was an irresponsible and unacceptable act for a landlord.
“Because County Waste failed to provide adequate information, instruction and training to ensure employees liable to be exposed to asbestos were able to safeguard themselves and others, it did nothing to prevent the spread of asbestos from the bathroom and removed the material from the property without being in an appropriately sealed receptacle, or wrapping.”
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