Cheshire fertiliser firm GrowHow UK Ltd sentenced over asbestos exposure.

A fertiliser manufacturer has been sentenced after around 50 workers were exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres at its plant at Ince Marshes near Ellesmere Port.

GrowHow UK Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after asbestos was discovered during the refurbishment of a 50-metre-high industrial furnace – known as the Primary Reformer – on 31 January 2011.

Chester Crown Court heard that contractors had been demolishing brickwork and insulation boards for two days, using hammers, chisels and crow bars, before a bricklayer raised concerns that asbestos may be present. This was confirmed when material from the site was taken for analysis.

The HSE investigation found GrowHow had failed to carry out an appropriate asbestos survey before allowing the project to start, despite the fact that the demolition work was likely to create large amounts of dust.

Workers had been breaking up rubble, putting it into sacks and pouring it down a chute so the sacks could be reused, without knowing the dust they were creating may have contained asbestos fibres.

Once asbestos was discovered, the workers were ordered to leave the site and all of their protective clothing and equipment was bagged up and destroyed due to the risk of contamination.

GrowHow UK Ltd was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £17,094 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to one breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 4 October 2013.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Daniel Longdon said:

“Dozens of workers at GrowHow were exposed to potentially deadly fibres because the company didn’t carry out a risk assessment to see if asbestos was present in the industrial furnace.

“They will have to live with the uncertainty for the rest of their lives of not knowing whether they will develop lung cancer or other diseases, such as mesothelioma, as a result.

“If GrowHow had arranged a proper survey ahead of the work starting then the asbestos would have been identified and a licensed contractor could have been brought in to remove it safely.”

Around 4,000 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

Asbestos fibres that are breathed in can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract, and can lead to lung cancer or other diseases. Symptoms may not appear for several decades.