Thurrock Council fined for “ignoring” asbestos hazard in schools

THURROCK Council has been fined for ignoring the asbestos hazard in a number of its schools.

Basildon Crown Court heard today (1 March 2013) that despite being made aware of asbestos concerns in a boiler room at Stifford Clays Junior School, no action was taken.

The failing was identified by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in response to a 2004 survey that found dust and debris containing asbestos fibres were present in the boiler room.

The council was told to arrange for the immediate removal of the material under licensed conditions. However, a HSE inspection in April 2010, as part of a national initiative monitoring asbestos in a number of local authority controlled schools, found that nothing had been done.

This was despite school staff and contractors alike regularly entering the boiler room in the intervening six year period.

HSE served a Prohibition Notice on 24 April 2010 barring entry to the boiler house until it was made safe. Thurrock Council was also served with two Improvement Notices regarding the management of asbestos in its schools elsewhere in the county.

Thurrock Council was fined a total of £35,000 and ordered to pay £15,326 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006 and a breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

After the hearing HSE inspector Samantha Thomson, said:

“This was a clear example of a local Authority failing to manage asbestos across its schools for a number of years.

“At Stifford Clays Junior School, the caretaker regularly worked in the boiler room with dust and debris over a period of six years. She will have been exposed to asbestos fibres and now faces an anxious wait to see if it results in any long-term health issues.

“Thurrock Council was informed of the potential for exposure in 2004, yet failed to act on the knowledge until HSE’s involvement some six years later.”

3 Responses to "Thurrock Council fined for “ignoring” asbestos hazard in schools"

  1. Lambo   March 2, 2013 at 11:33 am

    This makes shocking reading, and all councillors since 2004 should hang their heads in shame, do they really not take the Health & Safety of our educationional establishmenst seriously.

  2. Peter Perrin   March 2, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I entirely agree with you Lambo. Councillors and Council Officers have, in the past, adopted a cavalier attiude regarding asbestos and the potential risks to the health and safety of the public if they are exposed to damaged asbestos. There is a mountain of law and Health and Safety regulations, regarding the presence of asbestos materials in the workplace such as schools, shops, factories and public buildings. However, are you and most people aware that there are no enforcable laws and very little, if any,enforcable Health&Safety regulations governing the presence of asbestos materials in Council or privately rented housing, there are only guidelines which most landlords choose to ignore on the grounds that the level of risk to the occupants is deemed to be low and only becomes a risk when asbestos or materials which contain asbestos are disturbed and or damaged. Most of the current stock of Council rented housing contain asbestos materials and I find it incomprehensible that asbestos in the work place is considered to be a risk that merits litigation whilst asbestos in your home only merits guidelines. Housing Health and Safety Rating System [HHSRS] Guidance Notes refers to asbestos in dwellings and recommends that asbestos should be managed as follows:

    Section 4.17
    “Asbestos should not be present in dwellings. However, where it is, as removal is likely to rsult in an increase in airborne fibre levels, existing asbestos should be maanaged in situ if it is:

    1. ingood condition;
    2. not likely to be damaged; and/or
    3. not likely to be worked on or disturbed.

    Section 4.18
    Management of asbestos materials involves:

    1. identifying the location and condition of asbestos;
    2. ensuring that it is effectively sealed;
    3. making it inaccessable to prevent occupiers damaging the sealing surface;
    4. labelling;
    5. keeping a recod of the location of asbestos in the building.
    Where existing asbestos is damaged or is likely to be damaged or disurbed, an assessment needs to be made and action taken to repair, seal ,.enclose or remove it.”

    Since 2010 I have been urging the Council to be more robust in their management of asbestos in Council dwellings and, wihout equivocation, implement the HHSRS Guidance Notes and as a first step label asbestos materials with a warning so tenants are aware of the risks involved should they disturb, damage or interefere with it for example when carrying out diy repairs or decoration. I have recently received a reponse from the Council that the HHSRS is not itself a standard, thereby implying they are not obliged to comply. As a result of the Council’s cavalier attiude to asbestos the taxpayer is required to fork out £50.326 in fines and costs, perhaps if Councillors had to pay such fines and costs from their own pockets they would be more conscientious in the future.

    To close I quote the Health and Safety Executive:
    “Not for nothing is asbestos called the hidden killer – large amounts of it were once used in new and refurbished buildings and often in places where you can’t easily see it. A lot of premises still contain some form of asbestos. And the danger is still there waiting for you if your unprepared – especially if your in construction, maintenance, refurbishment and similar work. When asbestos materials are damaged or disturbed they can release dangerous fibres which can cause serious illness if breathed in.”

  3. Pingback: Asbestos exposure scandal | The Thurrock Heckler

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