Inadequate asbestos testing
…highlighting the importance of choosing the correct asbestos testing survey for planned refurbishment works.
Many workers were exposed to deadly asbestos fibres following a number of errors by an engineering company and a building firm during a refurbishment and demolition project in Swansea, South Wales, a court heard.
The project was poorly managed from the start, with unqualified staff put at the head of the operation, and was further doomed by inadequate management surveys. Refurbishment and Demolition surveys should have taken place prior to works commencing at the site. The more intrusive inspection would have highlighted asbestos located within the fabric of the building and other hard to reach areas.
The engineering firm had 2 asbestos management surveys for the buildings which, although later deemed to be inadequate, identified the presence of asbestos materials and highlighted additional areas, such as the ceiling voids, which were strongly presumed to contain asbestos, were totally ignored.
Neath Magistrates’ Court was told on 10th January 2013, that Wall Colmonoy Limited had instructed Oaktree Construction to refurbish a building opposite its offices in Swansea in December 2010 in order to expand the business.
Despite this, work was allowed to commence in the building, even though Oaktree Construction had been advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that a ‘Refurbishment and Demolition Survey’ was required before any work commenced.
During demolition works an asbestos insulation board (AIB) over-cladding a steel column (for fire protection) was damaged, and a Wall Colmonoy employee was told to seal the damage with make-shift plastic bags.
At this point work should have been stopped immediately, the site cordoned off until a licensed asbestos contractor had environmentally cleaned the area, with air quality clearance throughout the building satisfying that the air quality is at safe levels to re-occupy the area. However, work continued in the building for several months with the AIB debris left lying on the floor until an unannounced visit was carried out by an HSE inspector.
A HSE investigation stated that Wall Colmonoy failed to appoint a competent CDM Co-ordinator and principal contractor to plan and manage the construction work, and ignored advice from its own health and safety manager to notify HSE of the demolition phase of the project, as is required by law. Oaktree did not provide staff with asbestos awareness training, nor did any of the management have the skills, training or experience to address health and safety issues, including the asbestos risks.
Wall Colomony, of Alloy Industrial Estate, Pontardawe, was fined a total of £16,000 and ordered to pay £3,287 in costs.
Oaktree Construction (Wales) Ltd, of Pheasant Road, Trebanos, was fined £8,000 with costs of £2,000.
“Had a Refurbishment and Demolition survey been undertaken, and had a licensed asbestos contractor been used to removal all asbestos materials prior to the work starting, then the risk would have been eliminated.
“Instead this inadequate response left workers exposed to asbestos fibres, which can cause potentially fatal lung disease. The health and safety of workers must not be left to chance.”