It was reported on the Health & Safety Executives Website that a Teesside council has been fined for putting workers at risk of exposure to asbestos during clearance work of premises in Stockton prior to demolition.
Stockton on Tees Borough Council acquired the Music and Drama Club in Buchanan Street and decided to demolish it as part of a regeneration project. A survey was carried out in April 2010 that identified areas containing asbestos.
Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard on 2nd July that it was usual practice to “clear and strip” buildings prior to demolition. This was carried out by one of the council’s “Care For Your Area” teams over the weekend of 29th to 31st May 2010.
The eight-strong team removed most of the fixtures and fittings, including doors, seating and a kitchen, and all debris and rubble was swept up, transferred to a refuse vehicle and transported to a landfill site for disposal.
However, when a contractor was appointed to carry out the asbestos removal and demolition of the building in July, it was discovered that the earlier work had disturbed the fabric of the building and some items containing asbestos had already been removed.
A further survey in August 2010 revealed that asbestos had been disturbed or removed in eight areas within the building and the issue was reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October 2010.
An investigation by HSE found that the council had made a series of serious safety failings. It had had failed to make an assessment of the risk created by the presence of asbestos before the clearance work began. There was a chance the workers could have been exposed to asbestos, but no plan of work had been agreed and the measures taken to prevent potential exposure were inadequate.
Workers were not told asbestos was present and had received no asbestos awareness training. Also, the council failed to ensure that those organising the work had the necessary competence to do so.
The council also failed to prevent or reduce the spread of asbestos as employees and others working in the building wore their work uniforms and travelled home in them each day. No measures were taken to ensure the safe disposal of debris from the club; it had been put into a refuse vehicle and disposed of as municipal waste.
Stockton on Tees Borough Council, of Municipal Buildings, Church Road, Stockton, was fined a total of £20,000 (£10,000 for each offence) and ordered to pay £5,555.60 costs after it pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
After the case, HSE inspector Natalie Wright, said “Stockton on Tees Borough Council failed to ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment was made of the risk created by the presence of asbestos in this building, and therefore did not take the steps required in order to comply with the regulations.
“Instead the members of the ‘Care For Your Area’ team were potentially exposed to asbestos fibres, something which was entirely preventable.
“The council also failed to prevent or reduce the spread of asbestos as no measures were taken to dispose of the waste safely and the workers returned home in their uniforms each day, potentially spreading any asbestos even further.
“This prosecution should act as a reminder to others that they need a system in place to ensure that asbestos is properly managed in their properties.”
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