A Hartlepool firm and two of its directors have been fined along with a second company after redundant steel work was removed, putting workers at risk of exposure to asbestos.
Baxketh Ltd, a metal-recycling business, agreed to remove the steel work from the premises of UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd in New Road, Billingham, on the basis that Baxketh Ltd would take the value of the scrap metal as payment for the work.
However, the steel included several pipe work systems covered in lagging containing potentially-dangerous asbestos fibres, which were removed by workers without the firm putting any measures in place to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today (5 August) told Teesside Magistrates’ Court that inspectors visited the site on 22 February 2013 following a complaint from a worker at a neighbouring premises and a joint investigation was carried out by HSE’s Construction Division and Hazardous Installation Division.
Inspectors saw Baxketh Ltd directors Michael Almond Senior and Michael Almond Junior on the site, with a significant amount of pipe work and damaged insulation scattered on the ground. Almond Jnr was operating a mechanical excavator with a grab to move steel work from the ground into a skip.
A Prohibition Notice was served on Baxketh Ltd to prevent further work. An Improvement Notice was also served on UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd that required it to carry out an asbestos survey and develop a system to ensure the results were shared with those likely to disturb any asbestos.
Tests carried out by HSE later confirmed that the insulation debris found lying on the ground did contain asbestos.
The court was told that Michael Almond Senior had negotiated the arrangement to remove the steel work with the site manager.
The court heard that UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd failed to ensure information about location and condition of asbestos materials was provided to those liable to disturb it.
Baxketh Ltd had conducted the work without carrying out the necessary assessment to determine whether asbestos was present and had failed to take any measures to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres. The personal involvement of both directors meant they too had been prosecuted as individuals.
The work carried out by Baxketh Ltd meant asbestos debris was scattered over the working area, which exposed workers there and on neighbouring sites to a potential risk to their health. UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd had to have the site environmentally cleaned.
Baxketh Ltd, of Burn Road, Hartlepool, was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay £3,804.20 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulations 5(a) and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd, of Lodge Lane, Doncaster, was fined £10,000 with £2,243.40 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the same legislation.
Michael Joseph Almond Snr, 73, of Westbourne Road, Hartlepool was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £204.80 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 5(a) of the same legislation.
Michael Vincent Almond Jnr, 47, of Plymouth Walk, Hartlepool was fined £650 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 16 of the same legislation. There was no order for costs against Mr Almond Jnr.
Speaking after the case HSE Inspector Julian Nettleton said:
“Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and there is a lot of industry in the Teesside area that still uses, or occupies premises that have old chemical processing plant dating back to the 60’s. Almost all of it was lagged with asbestos in those days.
“Site operators and contractors working at these sites should always assume that old pipework is lagged with asbestos unless there is reliable evidence that says otherwise. Those involved in the construction and refurbishment industry also have a clear duty to ensure that work is managed so as to prevent the spread of asbestos.
“This incident occurred because UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd’s asbestos management systems did not include anything relating to informing others of the presence of asbestos on the site.
“Baxketh failed to carry out an asbestos assessment before starting work and did not take any measures to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres.
“This put the directors themselves, their own employee and others working nearby at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres and the court agreed that both companies were equally culpable for the offences.”
Should the fines for breaching asbestos regulations be increased to try and deter companies from such preventable incidents?