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NHS TRUST LACKED ASBESTOS MANAGEMENT PLAN

Estates team unaware of danger and untrained in controls

An NHS Trust has been fined £55,0000 after it was found likely to have exposed workers to asbestos for more than a decade at three hospitals in Hertfordshire. 

Between April 2000 and December 2011, the estates team at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was maintaining buildings at Watford General Hospital, Hemel Hempstead Hospital and St Albans Hospital without knowing that asbestos was present or being trained to identify and control exposure. 

The estates team could have disturbed asbestos fibres in the course of a job, but would have had no way of knowing or of protecting themselves.

St Albans Crown Court was told that over the 11-year period, the Trust identified some of the asbestos materials at their sites but did not have a management or monitoring plan in place to control the risks associated with asbestos.

When additional surveys were carried out in December 2011 the Trust realised more asbestos was present at all three hospitals than initially identified. Neither the newly identified asbestos nor the material that had originally been identified were being managed.

The Trust alerted HSE which investigated and brought a prosecution for health and safety breaches against the Trust (20 August).

The court heard the NHS Trust immediately put control measures in place after the survey results came back. Unfortunately, the extended lack of awareness reiterated that it had caused workers to potentially be exposed over a significant period of time, which constituted a major failure on its part. 

Worker doubt for “rest of their lives”

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, of Vicarage Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £ 34,078 in costs after pleading guilty to four breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Sandra Dias said:

“Employers have a duty to protect their staff from the long-term health risks associated with asbestos, which include lung cancer and mesothelioma.

This duty includes finding out whether the premises contains asbestos, assessing the risks and making a plan to manage that risk and act on it.

 West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust did not adequately manage the risk over an 11-year period. As a result, a number of its employees will now have to spend the rest of their lives not knowing whether they have been exposed.

We all hope that none will suffer as a result.”

 Around 4,500 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Airborne fibres can become lodged in the lungs and digestive tract, and can lead to lung cancer or other diseases, but symptoms may not appear for several decades.

Samantha Jones, Chief Executive, said:

“The offences relate to the management of asbestos at our three hospital sites over a period in excess of ten years dating from the creation of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust in 2000.

Whilst the charges concern events which pre-date my arrival at the Trust, I take full responsibility on behalf of the Trust Board for the failures which led to the prosecution.

Asbestos is common in buildings of the age of our hospitals, but the court found that the Trust had not taken its responsibilities as seriously as it should have done in relation to the safe management of asbestos, and for that I apologise.

Importantly, we have made significant changes in recent years to the way we manage and control asbestos across our hospitals, ensuring the risk of exposure is at the lowest possible level. This includes:

  • Undertaking new and detailed surveys to show where the asbestos is on our sites;
  • Implementing dedicated asbestos management plans for each hospital and ensuring they are shared with relevant staff and contractors;
  • Improved training for appropriate staff about the risks relating to asbestos and a detailed induction for all contractors;
  • Appointing a dedicated senior manager who has overall responsibility for the control and management of asbestos at our hospitals;
  • Safely removing a significant amount of asbestos.

We have invested heavily in the safe removal and management of asbestos across all three sites. Since 2012, we have spent almost £1.6 million and we plan to spend a further £500,000 over the course of this year.

We are expecting to return to court next week to hear the judge’s ruling on the sentence.”

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