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Asbestos

Asbestos exposure led to court conviction

A furniture manufacturing company has been found guilty of failing to prevent exposure to asbestos at its factory. Once it was aware that asbestos was present, what were its obligations?

An asbestos survey was carried out at the premises of Godfrey Syrett Ltd (GS) in North Tyneside in 2003. The survey identified asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) at the furniture manufacturer’s factory. 14 years later, in 2017, one of its employees raised concerns with the HSE about their potential exposure to asbestos.

When the HSE investigated, it discovered that GS had failed to take any steps to protect its employees. As the dutyholder in control of the premises, it was under a duty to put a management plan in place to control the risks of being exposed to asbestos fibres. Such a plan should have set out any remedial work needed to seal, enclose or remove damaged ACMs, as well as the measures required to monitor their condition. The plan would also have put in place measures to ensure that anybody carrying out maintenance work at the factory would be aware of the location of the ACMs so they could avoid disturbing them.

Despite having carried out an asbestos survey that identified ACMs, GS did not have a management plan or take any steps to protect its employees. This put the workers at risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

When the case came to court, GS was in administration and did not attend. It was found guilty in its absence of breaching its duty to safeguard its employees under s.2(1) Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its duty to act on the survey under regulation 4(8) Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The District Judge said the fine would have been £800,000 but that this had to be reduced to £1 on account of the company’s administration.

If asbestos is identified in a workplace, the dutyholder in control of the premises must assess the risks it presents and put a management plan in place to control those risks. Any necessary remedial or removal work must be carried out and measures put in place to monitor the condition of the asbestos and ensure that it is not disturbed.

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