Waltham Forest has admitted that workers were not protected from deadly asbestos at Walthamstow town hall.
During a trial at Westminster Magistrates Court, District Judge Grant said the authority’s offences were too serious for sentence to be passed immediately and referred the case to crown court.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutor, Chris Tilley said an investigation found employees and contractors were exposed to all three kind of asbestos at Waltham Forest town hall in Forest Road, Walthamstow, including dust which causes lung cancer.
He said: “We carried out a survey and asbestos was found in the basement area, the print room, even behind the skirting boards in the corridor.
“It is the HSE’s view that employees and contractors working in these areas were exposed to asbestos.
“It has not been possible to identify when the dust was disturbed to cause contamination.
“There has been a failure by Waltham Forest council to manage asbestos and ensure the health and safety of its staff and contractors.”
The court heard the council had failed to manage asbestos checks and did not warn contractors of the risk they may be facing when working in the area after asbestos was found in 2002.
The issue came to light in 2012 when resident Nick Tiratsoo submitted a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act but was told they were contaminated with asbestos.
The HSE was subsequently alerted and an investigation launched.
Mr Tilley continued: “We were unable to uncover any evidence to suggest Waltham Forest had taken any action to prevent people being exposed to asbestos in the town hall.
“Waltham Forest failed in its obligation to protect people.”
Mitigating, town hall lawyer Richard Matthews QC, said the council has now acted to rectify the problem, but admitted the contaminated print room was used every day by staff.
He said: “The regret is enormous.
“The council takes this matter extremely seriously.
“Everything possible is being done at the council to put the matter right and no expense is being spared in order to do that.”
The maximum fine which could be imposed by the magistrates’ court was £62,000.
District Judge Grant decided this cost would not reflect the severity of the offences.
He said: “It seems there have been serious failings on the part of the local authority for a lengthy period of time, at least since 2002 when the presence of asbestos was identified.
“A considerable number of people have been put at risk by these serious failings.”
The council will next appear at Southwark Crown Court on February 2.
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