A supervisor working for a licensed asbestos removal firm has been forced to pay out £2,500 for “flagrantly and deliberately" exposing himself to asbestos, disregarding the serious health risks the fibre poses.
In a highly unusual HSE prosecution of an individual for not taking reasonable care of themselves, Canterbury Magistrates’ Court heard how an inspector spotted Jack Conn, 23, working unprotected inside a sealed enclosure at Canterbury Academy on 30 May 2013.
Mr Conn was not wearing his essential respiratory mask and had the hood of his protective overalls down. A second worker could be seen removing the asbestos materials but with the correct personal protective equipment in use.
HSE told the court Mr Conn later admitted his respiratory equipment was in the enclosure with him, on the floor, and that he was aware of the risks and the duty to wear it. He also confirmed he had undertaken the training to be a supervisor.
At a hearing on 20 May Mr Conn pleaded guilty to breaching section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 in costs.
“It really does beggar belief that a trained supervisor with a licensed company, fully aware of the very real dangers associated with exposure to asbestos, could then casually disregard those dangers and work in a contaminated environment,” said HSE inspector Nicola Wellard after the case.
“Jack Conn, as supervisor, should have been setting a high standard to other employees and being seen to take seriously the precautions necessary to control the risks to himself and others. It was an obviously flagrant and deliberate breach. I hope he will not come to regret it in years ahead.”
The court heard how, upon arrival at the school, the HSE inspector saw the correct preparations the firm had put in place, which included a fenced-off site compound with restricted access warning signs; a decontamination unit with three separate cleaning areas; and the sealed boiler house with a three-stage air lock.
Looking to find someone in charge, the inspector went down to the basement where work was underway and viewed what was happening inside the sealed enclosure on a CCTV monitor. She saw Mr Conn without his respiratory protection and tried to get his attention by shouting through an airlock.
When that failed, she rang the company telling them they needed to get the worker out of the enclosure. She filmed some of the CCTV footage before the firm managed to make contact with the site and the supervisor was told leave the enclosure.
Around 4,000 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related death in the UK.
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