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June 20, 2007

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Workers exposed to asbestos three times in two days

Two maintenance workers were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos three times in the space of two days at a North Yorkshire hospital.

Northallerton Magistrates’ Court heard that in September 2004, work had been taking place inside a service duct at Friarage Hospital in Northallerton. Two employees of the estates department had been working in the duct beneath a corridor in the hospital, removing disused fire hose reels that had been decommissioned owing to fears of Legionnaires’ disease.

Dust and debris that contained asbestos were present in the service duct, although the men did not know this at the time. A survey report conducted in July 2003 had not stated that there was asbestos present in the duct.

The magistrates were told that later that evening, the men returned to the duct to remedy a problem with the water supply to a ward. When they went back to the duct the next day to restore the water supply, the workers were again unknowingly exposed to asbestos. The wife of one of the employees was also exposed to asbestos because she had washed his overalls.

The Trust said in mitigation that all 22 staff in the estates department had undergone training on asbestos before the incident and had received further training since. It had spent £20,000 immediately after the incident in cleaning up, plus a further £200,000 to remove all asbestos from the site. It accepted that it should have assumed that asbestos was present.

HSE inspector David Craxton said: “The case shows the importance of having sound arrangements in place for managing asbestos in buildings, identifying where it is, and keeping up-to-date records. If these are not present, it should be assumed asbestos is in place before any work is started.”

South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of HSWA 1974 by not ensuring the safety of its employees. The Trust was given a two-year conditional discharge for the offence and told to pay partial HSE costs of £7531.

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