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October 18, 2013

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Company fined over asbestos exposure

 

A glass firm has been fined after potentially exposing nearly 200 workers and visitors to dangerous asbestos fibres at its premises in Consett, County Durham. 
 
Consett Magistrates’ Court heard that Romag Ltd ignored recommendations from its own safety advisors to cordon off a contaminated area and arrange for an emergency clean-up by specialists.
 
An HSE investigation into the incident was trigged by two fire alarm installers when they started work at the firm’s Princess Building on Leadgate Industrial Estate on 12 July 2011.
 
The two subcontractors had been told the building was free from asbestos and unknowingly drilled through an asbestos insulation panel while installing fire sensors.
 
They then used a domestic vacuum cleaner to clean up the dust and debris and later used it in several parts of the building as they put up the sensors, spreading asbestos fibres around the premises.
 
The court heard that the asbestos disturbance was discovered the following day, but Romag Ltd failed to take any appropriate action for at least nine days, despite its own health and safety advisors having urged them to cordon off and lock down the area and arrange for an emergency clean-up and air clearance test.
 
The HSE found the firm’s delay in taking action led to 180 workers and 16 visitors being put at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. When the clean-up was organised, a substantial amount of contaminated material was collected.
 
Romag Ltd, Emperor Way, Sunderland, pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) and section 3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,638.
 
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Paul Miller said: “Romag Ltd needlessly put at risk the health of nearly 200 people because they failed to identify the presence of asbestos before any work started and then compounded the failing by not acting quickly to clean the area properly.
 
“Any company that intends to do work to the fabric of a property built prior to the year 2000 must ensure they have taken all reasonable steps to check whether asbestos is present before any work starts. That information must then be shared with anyone involved in the proposed work.”
 
In mitigation, the company entered an early guilty plea, cooperated with the investigation and carried out a full review of their procedures, and implemented new asbestos management procedures. 

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