A Suffolk window replacement company has been fined after it exposed workers to potentially fatal asbestos material during work to replace window units at a school in Bury St Edmunds.
Frames Conservatories Direct Ltd (FCDL) informed Westley Middle school that asbestos panels would be removed by registered contractors and disposed of in the correct manner over the school summer holidays in 2012.
However, Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court was told the company was not licensed to work with asbestos. Furthermore, employees undertaking the work were not told they would be handling asbestos, nor did they use any control measures to prevent the spread of fibres.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated after being alerted both by FCDL employees and the school’s headteacher.
The court heard that concerns were first raised when other contractors noticed suspect material in a floor void and consulted a licensed asbestos contractor who then visited the school. The contractor saw window panels being removed and notified FCDL employees that they were handling materials likely to contain asbestos. Work was immediately stopped and the area sealed off.
A licensed contractor undertook an extensive programme of cleaning under strictly controlled conditions in all affected areas of the school. Once completed, air tests were carried out and the areas certified safe for re-occupation.
The school spent some £111,495 on environmental cleaning and replacement of teaching aids and other items that had to be destroyed because of contamination.
Frames Conservatories Direct Ltd, of Barton Retail Park, Barton Road, Bury St Edmunds, was fined a total of £24,000 and ordered to pay £10,571 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching regulations 8(1) and 11(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Elizabeth Fowle said:
“This incident has been extremely stressful for those affected and has also been disruptive and costly for the school. All of this could have been avoided if the company had simply asked, ‘Should we be doing this work with asbestos?’
“Frames Conservatories Direct Ltd knew the window panels they planned to remove contained asbestos but wrongly decided they would work with the material. They did not tell their employees about the presence of asbestos or specify any safety measures.
“As a result, they exposed workers to asbestos levels many times in excess of the Control Limit. The long term health risks associated with inhalation of asbestos fibres include lung cancer and mesothelioma.
“It was extremely fortunate that this work took place during the school holiday which meant that there were no pupils on site and few school staff.”
Further information on how to reduce the risk of asbestos can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/index.htm
Notes to Editors
1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to prevent 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
2. Regulation 8(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states: “An employer must hold a licence granted under paragraph (2) before undertaking any licensable work with asbestos.”
3. Regulation 11(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states: ” Every employer must—(a) prevent the exposure to asbestos of any employee employed by that employer so far as is reasonably practicable; (b)where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent such exposure— (i) take the measures necessary to reduce exposure to asbestos of any such employee to the lowest level reasonably practicable by measures other than the use of respiratory protective equipment, and (ii) ensure that the number of any such employees exposed to asbestos at any one time is as low as is reasonably practicable.
4. HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press.