Workers exposed to asbestos during refurbishment work at a house.

The owner of a cladding installation business has been fined after he exposed workers to a potentially fatal risk from airborne asbestos fibres at a house in Bedfordshire.

Michael Southern, owner of PMF Cladding, instructed an employee and a casual labourer to remove and replace soffit boards during refurbishment work at a property in Sharnbrook in August 2011.

However, Bedford Magistrates’ Court heard today (3 July) that Mr Southern had not carried out a suitable survey in advance to determine whether asbestos was present and did not hold a licence to undertake work with the dangerous material.

A neighbour informed Mr Southern that the soffits were made of asbestos insulating board but that did not stop him allowing work to carry on.

After a complaint was made to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an inspector visited the site and immediately halted further work.

HSE’s investigation found that Mr Southern was aware from some of his previous jobs that soffit boards may contain asbestos but had not taken this into account when assessing this job. He had also failed to provide information and training to workers who could be exposed to asbestos fibres.

Michael William Southern, 48, of Brington Road, Old Weston, Huntingdon, trading as PMF Cladding, Cambridge Road Industrial Estate, Bedford, was fined £7,015 and ordered to pay £3,200 in costs after pleading guilty to four breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 on 30 August 2011.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Gavin Bull, said:

“Mr Southern, as a person running a cladding installation business, should have been in no doubt about the dangers posed by asbestos and of the regulations governing work with this material. Despite this, he progressed this work without testing the material to be removed for the presence of asbestos. This resulted in those working there being exposed to risk of inhaling airborne asbestos fibres without taking any suitable precautions.

“This incident was entirely preventable and highlights the importance of having a robust asbestos management system in place.

“Dutyholders should identify the type, location and condition of all asbestos-containing materials, and establish appropriate precautions, before starting removal operations. This is all the more important for this type of higher-risk notifiable work, which should only have been performed by a licensed contractor.”

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It is responsible for around 4,500 deaths each year. Asbestos is still present in many buildings and any work likely to disturb the asbestos needs to be positively managed to prevent exposure.

For advice on working with asbestos visit