A licensed asbestos removal contractor has been ordered to pay out over £150,000 after its “deplorable” failings exposed workers to dangerous fibres during the demolition of a former school in Lincoln.
Angus Group Ltd was found guilty of eight breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 on 27 May for failing to properly manage the removal of asbestos-containing materials at the site of the former Ermine Infants’ School during March 2012.
HSE’s investigation found the firm ignored recommendations in the asbestos survey that was carried out by the company contracted to demolish the school, which found that the end walls of the school’s main hall were covered in a spray-applied coating of asbestos and should therefore be removed by a licensed contractor under safe, controlled conditions.
Instead, Angus Group, which was sub-contracted to carry out the work, chiseled the asbestos spray coating off the main hall walls using power tools without any screens, enclosures or air extraction systems in place. Asbestos-containing material was bagged and carried to a skip outside.
When Angus Group notified the main contractors that the asbestos removal work on the hall was finished, the project agents and main contractors visited the next day, but found the hall covered in dust and patches of asbestos material still on the wall.
Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard that HSE found a catalogue of failings in the way the work had been planned and carried out. The exact location of asbestos material wasn’t identified and the work only took one day to complete rather than the planned seven.
“Building owners and contractors have a duty to ensure they protect their workers, and any site personnel, from the well-known dangers of exposure to asbestos,” said HSE inspector Martin Giles after the hearing,
“Angus Group Ltd is an experienced licensed contractor, and was fully aware of all the hazards and all its responsibilities to ensure safety at all times. It is deplorable a company that does know better failed to properly manage the dangers of this hidden killer.”
According to HSE, Angus Group’s risk assessments were too generic; enclosures, segregation and containment measures were inadequate; plans lacked detail; access and transit routes through the buildings weren’t clear; employees lacked specific instruction, and there was no reference to the original asbestos survey in the plan.
HSE concluded the company’s safeguards to control the risk posed by asbestos – which is still the UK’s largest work-related killer – were seriously inadequate leading to an unnecessary release and spread of dangerous asbestos fibres and dust.
The plan and risk assessment for the asbestos removal work in the building’s boiler room were also found to be confused and a decontamination unit was not powered. HSE served a prohibition notice to halt the work on the boiler room until the unit was properly powered and working.
As part of the investigation, 17 samples were taken in and around the hall, 15 of which proved positive for asbestos. A later analysis, which included other parts of the building, found asbestos fibres in 15 of 34 samples, indicating asbestos had spread throughout the building.
Angus Group Ltd of Paisley, Scotland, was found guilty of eight breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, and was fined a total of £109,000 and ordered to pay a further £42,100 in costs.
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