Council in court over workers exposed to asbestos

Birmingham City Council and a Solihull refurbishment company have been sentenced for exposing three men to asbestos during work on a school.

Solihull Supplies Ltd, of Lodge Road, Knowle, was contracted by the council to refurbish the reception area at William Cowper Community Primary School, Newtown, Birmingham.

Solihull Supplies then sub-contracted another firm to remove ceiling tiles at the school without carrying out a proper risk assessment.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard that on 24 July 2009 two workers from the firm, which cannot be named as legal proceedings are still ongoing, were tasked with stripping out tiles from seven rooms being refurbished.

However, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the tiles contained brown asbestos and the work lasted several hours, exposing both workers and the school caretaker to asbestos. Also, rather than use a cleaner with a specialised filter, an ordinary vacuum cleaner was used which would have spread fibres into the air.

HSE told the court the subcontracted firm did not have a licence to undertake work with asbestos, had no knowledge of how to deal with asbestos and had given its employees no training in dealing with this dangerous substance.

Birmingham City Council, of Victoria Square, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,091 costs.

Solihull Supplies Ltd, of Lodge Road, Knowle, Solihull, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6(1)(a) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and was fined £1,750 and ordered to pay £1,091 costs.

HSE Principal Inspector Jo Anderson said after the hearing:

“Because of the failing of the council and the firms involved, three people now have to live with the knowledge they may become ill from lung disease in the future.

“The long term health risks associated with exposure to asbestos dust are well known and it is simply unacceptable for incidents such as this to still be taking place.

“This was an entirely preventable incident which could have been avoided if those involved had assessed the situation properly and taken the necessary precautions.”

Asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year. Information on working safely with asbestos is available at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.

Notes to editors

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”
Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
Regulation 6(1)(a) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states: “An employer shall not carry out work which is liable to expose his employees to asbestos unless he has made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that exposure to the health of those employees and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations.”

Source HSE