Companies who exposed 40 residents at a Northumberland sheltered housing scheme to asbestos have been ordered to pay over £24,000.
National housing association Anchor Trust, a contractor and sub-contractor were all culpable in a failure to identify the presence of asbestos in a lift shaft at the former’s St Pauls Court site in Alnwick, county magistrates heard yesterday.
When work was carried out to remove the old lift, the asbestos was disturbed.
The court was told the exposure posed a risk to their health, but that there would be no way of knowing whether any damage had been caused for decades, due to the latent nature of asbestos related diseases.
The three firms each pleaded guilty to charges of breaching health and safety regulations, brought by the Health and Safety Executive.
Anchor – which last night issued an apology following the incident – was ordered to pay £11,120, contractor Express Elevators £8,920 and sub contractor PC Lifts £4,520.
HSE inspector Natalie Wright told magistrates at Bedlington that Anchor had awarded the contract to replace the lift to Yorkshire-based Express Elevators, which sub-contracted the removal of the old lift to London firm PC Lifts.
But information given by Anchor to the two companies was “conflicting” on whether asbestos was present in the shaft, Ms Wright said, and surveys had failed to establish satisfactorily whether there was asbestos.
As a result, workers removed two asbestos insulating boards and placed them with building rubble. Disturbing the boards would have loosened tiny asbestos particles sufficiently for them to get into the atmosphere without the hoardings.
Magistrates were told a company licenced to deal with asbestos should have removed the boards, with PC Lifts not such a firm, within appropriate conditions.
Miss Wright said: “No control measures were in place to prevent the spread of asbestos due to the combined failings of all three companies who had failed to spot it.”
Defending for Anchor, Hayley Lawrence told the court that the work would not have been carried out had PC Lifts spotted and reported the asbestos.
Solicitors for Express Elevators and PC Lifts both said their clients had accepted Anchor’s latest information that there was no asbestos and said there was no evidence of any harm being caused by the exposure.
Paul Matthews, for Express Elevators, argued that Anchor should have identified the presence of asbestos before appointing the contractor. Rob Casey, for PC Lifts, told the court Mr Collett had queried the presence of asbestos with Express Elevators on the day he carried out the work.
Sentencing, magistrates said: “The three companies have all potentially contributed to people being exposed to asbestos and we all know the dangers of asbestos.
“We are particularly concerned about that 40 plus residents, the workers in Anchor and the two workers that were exposed.”
After the case, Miss Wright said: “Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and those involved in the construction and refurbishment industry have a clear duty to ensure that work is managed so as to prevent the spread of asbestos.”
Christine McGregor, district manager for St Paul’s Court, said: “I am sorry for any distress this incident has caused.”