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Staffordhire council and building contractors fined for asbestos exposure during refurbishment

Staffordshire City Council and a firm of building contractors hired to undertake refurbishment work in a local school have been fined £27,000 collectively for exposing nursery children, teaching staff and two joiners to asbestos fibres.

Contracting firm G Evans (Services) Ltd were hired for the refurbishment of Glenthorne Community Primary School in Staffordshire in February 2009.

On Friday 13th February 2009, two joiners were cutting through a large cupboard in a nursery class when they noticed an unidentified material on the back of the cupboard. The joiners alerted their site manager who confirmed that they should continue to dismantle and remove the material from the cupboard. However, this material was subsequently found to be asbestos insulating board which by law must be removed by a licensed asbestos removal specialist. In December 2012, the court was informed that the two joiners removed the asbestos material before using an ordinary vacuum cleaner to remove the dust and debris on the floor causing the asbestos fibres to float and linger in the air.

On the Friday that the work was undertaken by the two joiners, seventeen nursery children between the ages of three and four were in the classroom for half day sessions along with their teacher and a teaching assistant. A cleaner was also heard to have been in the classroom and could also have potentially been exposed to the asbestos fibres.

The court heard that a health and safety investigation into the asbestos incident found that Staffordshire County Council had failed to carry out a pre-refurbishment asbestos survey in the school before any work was carried out.

It was also heard that the building contractors, G Evans (Services) Ltd, had failed to identify the asbestos insulating board and found that the procedures to identify the asbestos by the company were inadequate.

Staffordshire County Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £10,000 for the breach of health and safety. They were also ordered to pay £5,000 court costs.

G Evans (Services) Ltd pleaded guilty to Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 were fined £8,000 for their breach of health and safety. They were also ordered to pay £4,000 court costs.

After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive inspector David Brassington stated: “A serious of assumptions and missed opportunities led to contractors, school staff and nursery age children being exposed to asbestos fibres during refurbishment work… The long term health risks associated with exposure to asbestos dust are well known and it is unacceptable for incidents such as this to be taking place.” 

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