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January 21, 2011

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Organisations blame each other over hospital asbestos disturbance

An NHS Trust, a security firm and a company director have been fined after asbestos was released during maintenance work at a hospital in Northamptonshire.
Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court heard that Northamptonshire NHS Teaching Primary Care Trust had contracted NUTEC Security Systems Ltd to upgrade security at Isebrook Hospital in Wellingborough.
Following a series of burglaries at the hospital, the NHS Trust decided to install CCTV and motion sensors inside the hospital buildings. During the installation, which was carried out between 21 April 2008 and 9 June 2008, NUTEC engineers ran cables through false ceilings and partition walls in public areas of the hospital. Asbestos was present in both the walls and the ceilings and was disturbed during the work.
On 9 June 2008, the contractors damaged some shelves while they were working. The incident was reported to the hospital’s estates department, whose officers came to inspect the damage. During their visit they found dust, which they believed was asbestos, and also witnessed the contractors drilling into a wall that had a label warning about the presence of asbestos. The hospital subsequently reported the incident to the HSE under RIDDOR.
The HSE’s investigation found the hospital was in possession of an asbestos survey for the premises but this had not been received by NUTEC. HSE inspector, Karl Raw, revealed that NUTEC director Paul Beeby had surveyed the site before planning the job, but had not highlighted that asbestos was present.

Inspector Raw added that the work was poorly planned and NUTEC’s staff had not been given asbestos awareness training before starting the job. He said: “The lack of planning meant that there was potential for workers and members of the public to be exposed to asbestos. There’s no way of knowing the extent of the exposure, as work in some areas had been completed and cleaned before the potential exposures were uncovered.

“Asbestos can be very dangerous and regulations are there to minimise risk. Had this job been properly planned then any disturbance of asbestos could have been avoided.”

Northamptonshire NHS Teaching Primary Care Trust appeared in court on 19 January and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, and reg. 5(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined a total of £4000 and ordered to pay costs of £1755.

NUTEC appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 5(a), reg. 10(1)(a) and reg. 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. It was fined a total of £4200 and ordered to pay £1755 in costs.

Paul Beeby admitted to breaching reg. 5(a) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, for failing to carry out a suitable assessment to check if asbestos was present. He was fined £1200 and ordered to pay £1755 towards costs.

Neither company had any previous convictions and both blamed the other party in their mitigation. The NHS Trust claimed it had posted a copy of the asbestos survey to NUTEC to warn it about the presence of asbestos, but NUTEC said it had never received the report.

NUTEC also said it has subsequently reviewed its systems to ensure that suitable health and safety information is present before it starts planning jobs. It has also sent all its contractors on an asbestos-awareness training course.

Following the hearing a spokesperson for Northamptonshire NHS Teaching PCT said: “We can reassure the public that independent specialist medical and technical advice – accepted by the court – confirmed that the risk of harm from the release is negligible.
“Since the release we have completely revised and strengthened our health and safety processes and procedures, particularly in relation to asbestos and the management of contractors on our sites.”

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13 years ago

The Trust did not learn from it’s experiences as it allowed an asbestos garage to be demolished without any regard to the release of asbestos fibres two weeks after the discovery of the work by Nutec within the hospital. The Trust had systematic failings in it’s management of H&S and only supports my strong feelings that whilst they provide excellent care to their patients they are sadly lacking in acknowledging or addressing their duty of care to their employees.