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REFURB SURVEY NEEDED TO STOP ASBESTOS EXPOSURE

Council and contractor face fines over asbestos failures in primary school

Staffordshire County Council and refurbishment firm G Evans (Services) Ltd have been fined for exposing a nursery class, school staff and two joiners to asbestos fibres at a primary school in February 2009.

Two joiners cut through a large built-in cupboard in the nursery class when they noticed unidentified material which they showed to their site manager. The manger allowed them to carry although it transpired that the material was asbestos insulating board (AIB) which should be moved by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.

The men used an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clear up dust and debris and this would have spread asbestos fibres building. When the work was undertaken seventeen young children were in the classroom with a teacher and teaching assistant. A school cleaner was also exposed to the potentially dangerous substance.

HSE investigators found that Staffordshire County Council failed to carry out a pre-refurbishment asbestos survey before work started. These surveys are essential to ensure that anyone likely to work with or disturb asbestos is provided with information on the location and condition of the asbestos.

G Evans (Services) Ltd had not taken steps to identify the AIB before work started and its procedures for identifying asbestos containing materials permitted the site manager to assume the material was safe to work with and to continue disturbing it. The court heard the work should have been stopped until the material had been investigated further.

Assumptions and missed opportunities led to asbestos exposures

Staffordshire County Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was (14 December) fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs. G Evans (Services) Ltd, of Rugeley, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs.

HSE inspector David Brassington said after the hearing:

“A series of assumptions and missed opportunities led to contractors, school staff and nursery age children being exposed to asbestos fibres during refurbishment work.”

The joiners who were working directly with the asbestos were significantly exposed to the disturbed fibres– something that should not have happened with proper planning and access to an asbestos survey before work commenced.”

Fortunately, the risk to children and school staff who were in the classroom the same day as the asbestos was disturbed will have been lower because they spent less time in the nursery at the time when the asbestos was initially disturbed.

This incident has understandably caused a great deal of anxiety. As soon as the suspect material was found the work should have been stopped for further investigation.”

The long term health risks associated with exposure to asbestos dust are well known and it is unacceptable for incidents such as this to be taking place.”

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