Fines issued after asbestos mismanagement

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Fines issued after asbestos mismanagement

24th January 2011

An NHS Trust and a security firm it contracted have been fined £9,400 after potentially dangerous asbestos fibres were released in a county hospital.

The incident occurred when Northamptonshire NHS Teaching Primary Care Trust, whilst upgrading security, employed NUTEC Security Systems Ltd to run cables through false ceilings and partition walls in public areas of Isebrook Hospital, Wellingborough without telling them that asbestos was present in the building.

Bridget Collier, Head of the Industrial Disease Team at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said: "Asbestos as we know can be incredibly dangerous. This is precisely why there are building regulations in place for proper asbestos management.

"This case highlights just how important it is for employers to carry out building safety assessments so they can inform contractors of the presence of any asbestos found on the premises."

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Northamptonshire NHS Teaching Primary Care Trust, NUTEC Security Systems Ltd and company director Paul Beeby at Wellingborough Magistrates' Court following the incident at Isebrook Hospital in 2008.

The HSE investigation found that the Trust did not inform the contractor that asbestos was present in the building, nor did it ensure that the work it asked to be carried out was being project managed correctly.

"It is astonishing that contractors were not told of the existence of asbestos in the hospital walls," said Bridget a partner with the firm. "It is equally alarming that the areas in which these contractors were working were not closed off to both staff and the public alike."

Asbestos, which was widely used for fireproofing and insulation up until ten years ago can still be found in many buildings built or refurbished before 2000. Deemed to be relatively safe if left undisturbed, asbestos only becomes dangerous when broken up and the deadly fibres released into the air.

The investigation also found that NUTEC had assumed certain areas of the hospital were asbestos-free and that company director, Mr Beeby had failed to ensure building surveys had been adequate enough to properly identify the presence of the so-called 'silent killer.'

"As the company director and the individual responsible for undertaking the necessary surveys, Mr Beeby should have ensured the safety of his employees by accessing the areas needing work and making them aware of the potential dangers they were about to face," said Bridget.

Northamptonshire NHS Teaching Primary Care Trust pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and Regulation 5(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined a total of £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,755.

NUTEC Security Systems Ltd, of Quarry Park Close, Northampton, pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The company was fined a total of £ 4,200 and ordered to pay costs of £1,755.

Mr Beeby pleaded guilty to one breach of the regulations, and was fined £1,200 and also ordered to pay £1,755 costs.

"At present, there is no way of knowing the extent of any asbestos exposure as the areas in question were immediately cleaned upon completion of the work, well before exposure concerns were raised," said Bridget. "The lack of planning means the potential for staff and members of the public to be exposed to asbestos was certainly present.

"Asbestos-related diseases remain the country's most prevalent workplace killer," added Bridget.

"This case demonstrates how potentially dangerous the consequences of a lack of proper planning and project management can be. Had this job been properly planned then any disturbance and subsequent release of asbestos fibres could have been avoided.

How can Fentons help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of industrial diseases including asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

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