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COUNCIL FINED £66K FOR IGNORING ASBESTOS RISK

HSE ‘Mythbusters Panel’ exposes inadequate asbestos controls

Waltham Forest Borough Council has been fined after members of staff and visiting contractors were exposed to asbestos (ACMs) which the Council knew to be present in the Town Hall basement.

The ACMs were identified in a survey commissioned by the council in 2002 but the Council failed to act on the findings and put effective controls in place. Employees and visiting contractors consequently worked in the basement regardless of the dangers for the next ten years.

Westminster Magistrates heard that the issue became public in mid-2012 when a local resident put in a request to the council to see some election expenses documentation. The authority denied the request with the reason that the paperwork was contaminated with asbestos.

The resident approached the HSE ‘Mythbuster Challenge Panel’ which referred the concern to HSE London Inspectors. Further investigation revealed that a second asbestos survey was carried out in January 2012 which identified problems of asbestos in the boiler room and other areas of the basement. The survey also highlighted that areas identified in the 2002 survey had not been remedied.

The court heard that Waltham Forest Borough Council lacked a plan for managing asbestos and there was an inadequate system in place for inspecting asbestos at the Town Hall.

Singular failure to act for a decade

Waltham Forest Borough Council was fined a total of £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Chris Tilley said:

“Waltham Forest was aware of the asbestos in the basement as far back as 1984. It was also aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks. However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade. Over that period, an unquantifiable number of its own employees plus workers from maintenance companies and similar were regularly exposed to these hazards.

Asbestos-related disease has a long latency and it is impossible to ascertain what injury may have been caused in this case. But asbestos is a known and powerful carcinogen and owners or managers of non-domestic premises, such as councils, have a legal duty to manage the material in their buildings and have measures and controls in place to protect workers and the public from being exposed.”

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