Asbestos – The hidden killer – what you need to know!

Contractors exposed to asbestos during nightclub renovations
A property developer has been handed multiple suspended prison sentences for failing to identify the presence of ACM’s before allowing contractors to start renovations at a nightclub in Wales.

Michael Murton, 36, was converting a nightclub in Wrexham into three bars. During the renovation a member of the public contacted Wrexham Council to raise concerns that asbestos materials were being placed in a skip outside the building, the HSE, who visited the scene the following day found that Mr Murton had instructed contractors to remove sprayed coating containing Amosite (brown asbestos) from steel beams before they were to be sandblasted. They were then told to place the debris in an outside skip, which was subsequently collected by the skip-hire firm and taken to a landfill site to be buried.

HSE inspector, Debbie John, told SHP that Mr Murton failed to carry out an asbestos survey before starting the work, which led to workers being exposed to the hazardous substance. She said: “Had Mr Murton surveyed the property for the presence of asbestos prior to the start of construction work, the sprayed coating would have been identified and arrangements made for its controlled removal by an HSE-licensed contractor.

“Instead, Mr Murton, construction workers, waste-management contractors and others were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos-containing materials.”

Murton appeared at Mold Crown Court on 5 April and pleaded guilty to breaching a number of offences:

  • reg. 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, for exposing workers to asbestos; reg. 11(1) of the same legislation, for failing to take reasonable steps to protect workers from exposure to asbestos; and reg. 16 for not taking steps to prevent the spread of asbestos – he was given an eight-month suspended sentence for these offences;
  • reg. 19 of the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005 – eight-month suspended sentence;
  • s33(1)(c) of the Environment Protection Act 1990, for disposing of hazardous waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment, or harm to human health – 12-month suspended sentence; and
  • s34 of the same Act, for failing to control the disposal of hazardous waste – no additional penalty.
    All the suspended sentences are to run concurrently and he was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service and pay £10,000 in costs.

NORTH West-based Britannia Hotels has been ordered to pay £200,000 in fines and costs after construction workers and guests were put at risk of being exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres at one of its properties.Hale Barns-based Britannia Hotels Ltd failed to ensure a full asbestos assessment was undertaken before construction workers refurbished a wing of The Grand Burstin Hotel in the seaside town of Folkestone, between February and July 2010. Canterbury Crown Court heard that an asbestos surveyor who visited the site after work started discovered the widespread presence of asbestos in the eaves of the building. He also found asbestos on the second floor, which was likely to be linked to the removal of walls and ceilings as part of the refurbishment.

A licensed asbestos contractor had to be called in to remove the material and seal off the contaminated area to prevent fibres spreading to other parts of the hotel. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was also notified.

Due to the long time it takes asbestos-related illnesses to develop, it is not yet known whether any construction workers or hotel guests were directly affected.

Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause serious diseases such as lung cancer or lung scarring, but symptoms can take years to develop after exposure.

Britannia Hotels, of Hale Road in Hale, pleaded guilty to two separate breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined a total of £160,000 and ordered to pay £40,051 in costs on 3 April 2013.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said: “Britannia Hotels carried out refurbishment work without arranging a full and proper asbestos survey before work got underway.

“The company’s failure to deal with the asbestos could have resulted in up to 22 workers being exposed to asbestos from the outset of the project until the end of July 2010.

“Although guests did not have direct access to the floors where asbestos was found, it is possible that the fibres may have spread into areas that were still open to them. The simple fact is that because of the company’s failures, both guests and workers have been put at risk, and they now face an uncertain future.

“This situation was wholly avoidable and I hope the prosecution highlights the need to ensure that workers are given the appropriate training to ensure that asbestos is properly managed and dealt with.”