A Rochdale-based re-upholstery firm and company director have been fined after workers were exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres for nearly five years.
Mansfield Soft Furnishings Ltd and David Mansfield were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after up to 30 employees were exposed to the airborne fibres at Meadowcroft Mill on Bury Road.
Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester was told the company, which refurbishes furniture for pubs, restaurants and hotels, had moved into a unit at the mill in September 2007 and created a mezzanine storage area in the eaves of the roof.
Workers put foam for furniture in the storage space, often placing it on the beams and underside of the roof, which it later emerged contained asbestos. As employees dragged the foam through the eaves before throwing it down onto the floor, fine layers of asbestos dust were released into the air.
The court heard a HSE inspector visited the company in June 2012 on a separate issue but noticed the material on the roof of the mezzanine looked similar to sprayed asbestos and was in a poor condition.
The inspector issued an Improvement Notice after discovering Mansfield had failed to arrange for an asbestos survey to be carried out, despite employees raising concerns that asbestos may be present.
When a survey was eventually completed, it revealed asbestos was present in the roof, and fibres were likely to have been spread throughout the building as the foam was dragged down and taken through the workshop.
As a result, HSE served the company with a Prohibition Notice on 10 July 2012 banning access to the building until it had been decontaminated. However, Mr Mansfield and another worker re-entered the building at about 8pm on the same day to remove furniture worth approximately £25,000 so it could be delivered to a client, breaching the terms of the Prohibition Notice.
Mansfield Soft Furnishings Ltd was fined £30,000 after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of workers and failing to comply with the Prohibition Notice.
David Mansfield, 48, of Northolt Fold in Heywood, was fined £10,000 after admitting that he deliberately breached the Prohibition Notice.
The co-defendants were also ordered to pay joint costs of £20,000.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector David Norton said: “Workers at Mansfield Soft Furnishings will have to live the rest of their lives knowing they’re at risk of contracting a deadly lung disease because of the actions of their employer.
“The company should have arranged for an asbestos survey to be carried out before moving into the building, but it failed to do this even after some workers raised concerns.
“This meant that employees were exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres for nearly five years as pieces of foam were moved – disturbing the asbestos material – and then dropped to the floor below, releasing dust into the air.
“Even after a Prohibition Notice was issued banning access to the building, the company put profit before safety when Mr Mansfield and another worker went back in.”
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 was extensively used as a building material in the 50s, 60s and 70s but it becomes dangerous if it is broken up and fibres are released. Airborne fibres can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract and can lead to lung cancer or other diseases, but symptoms may not appear for several decades.
Information on how to work safely with asbestos is available at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.
Notes to Editors:
- The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related 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. www.hse.gov.uk
- 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 33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It is an offence for a person to contravene any requirement or prohibition imposed by an improvement notice or a prohibition notice.”