Companies that expose employees or members of the public to deadly asbestos fibres could face prosecution and possible punishments, as has been proved by one of the most recent cases investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Staffordshire County Council and refurbishment business G Evans (Services) have been fined following a court appearance, in relation to an incident in February 2009. Nursery children, school staff and two joiners were all exposed to asbestos during a project at Glenthorne Community Primary School in Cheslyn Hay.
The joiners were tasked with cutting through an in-built cupboard in the nursery class in question. They soon realised there was a large object attached to its back, which they showed to their site manager and were instructed to continue dismantling.
It was later realised that the object was an asbestos insulating board and the law states that such an item can only be removed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. Rather than this, the workmen had used an ordinary vacuum cleaner to tidy up the dust that was created by the asbestos panel.
This is likely to have spread asbestos particles in the air, potentially harming all those who came into contact with it.
Speaking after the case was resolved with Staffordshire County Council being ordered to pay £10,000 and G Evans (Services) being fined £8,000, HSE inspector David Brassington said a series of assumptions and missed opportunities were to blame.
"Fortunately, the risk to children and school staff who were in the classroom the same day as the asbestos was disturbed will have been lower because they spent less time in the nursery at the time when the asbestos was initially disturbed," he stated.
"This incident has understandably caused a great deal of anxiety. As soon as the suspect material was found the work should have been stopped for further investigation."
According to the HSE's own figures, asbestos remains the greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, underlining the importance of dealing with it safely.