Two Essex-based companies have been fined after exposing workers to potentially deadly asbestos over a period of years, despite being alerted to the risks at their premises.
Basildon Crown Court heard that asbestos was found in poor condition when Connect Packaging Ltd moved into industrial units in Manor Road Trading Estate, Benfleet in 2007, but that it failed to act to control risk. As a result, its employees were exposed to risk from airborne asbestos fibres.
When Connect Packaging Ltd moved out of the units in January 2009, it sublet them to Creo Retail Marketing Ltd, another company within its group, but continued to exercise some control over maintenance and repair work at the premises.
In 2014, Creo Retail Marketing Ltd undertook its own asbestos survey following the appointment of a new health and safety officer. This confirmed continuing risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres from sources including poorly-enscapsulated blue asbestos (crocidolite).
Despite this, workers remained exposed to these risks while the companies debated their responsibility for its removal and failed to act effectively to prevent exposure.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation and its scientists found asbestos fibres at locations including the workers’ clocking-in point, on rafters above work areas, and within a stationery cupboard.
When asbestos fibres become airborne, they can be inhaled, and these tiny fibres are known to cause respiratory diseases and cancers which can be fatal. The court heard that workers at both companies were exposed to risk over an extended period of time.
Connect Packaging Ltd, registered at 91 Soho Hill, Birmingham was fined £65,000 and ordered to pay £8,150.23 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 4 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Creo Retail Marketing Ltd, registered at 350 Euston Road, London, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £8,149.63 in costs after pleading guilty to breaches of Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector Nikki Hughes said:
“Connect Packaging Ltd is now under new ownership but while it held the tenants- repairing-lease on the rented units it had a legal duty to manage asbestos within these non-domestic premises, as did its sub-tenant, Creo Retail Marketing Ltd.
“After this asbestos was identified, both companies should have acted promptly and effectively to control the potentially lethal risk to which their workers were exposed. Asbestos-related disease has a long latency period, so we cannot predict the consequences this failure to manage asbestos may have on their workers’ health.
“This prosecution should act as a reminder to all persons in control of the repair and maintenance of non-domestic premises of the need to ensure that the correct control measures are put in place to prevent exposure to asbestos, so far as is reasonably practicable.”