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February 1, 2010

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Poorly planned renovations left workers exposed to asbestos

A commercial property landlord allowed construction workers to be exposed to asbestos during the refurbishment of an industrial unit in Bristol.

Bristol Magistrates’ Court heard that Frank Bruce and Company Ltd, which rents out industrial premises, had contracted two construction firms to replace and repaint roofs at Lawrence Hill Industrial Park between February and March 2009.

Frank Bruce and Company planned the work and was aware that asbestos was present in the roof insulation of the building. But it did not warn the sub-contractors about the asbestos, and failed to appoint a licensed asbestos-removal company to carry out the work.

No safety precautions were put in place prior to the work starting. Consequently, the building became contaminated with asbestos dust, to which seven workers were exposed. The HSE was notified about the exposure after being contacted by a neighbouring business.

The watchdog issued two Prohibition Notices on 18 March 2009: one to stop the work, and the other ordering the firm to appoint a CDM-coordinator and a principal contractor.

HSE inspector Sue Adsett said: “The decision not to have large quantities of asbestos insulation board removed by licensed contractors before the general refurbishment work began put the workers at risk and contaminated the site.

“Landlords and property developers need to be very wary of organising construction work themselves if they haven’t got appropriate experience of managing health and safety in building projects.”

Frank Bruce and Company appeared in court on 27 January and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 14 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to appoint a CDM-coordinator, or principal contractor. It also pleaded guilty to reg. 4(10) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, for failing to adequately plan work with materials containing asbestos. It was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay £6679 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notices. It also appointed a licensed contractor to clear the asbestos from the site.

Inspector Adsett concluded: “The work was stopped and the defendant paid to make the site safe, but this doesn’t change the fact that seven construction workers were exposed to asbestos, which we know can cause fatal diseases.”


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