A number of workers and Royal Navy personnel were exposed to asbestos after pipes lined with the dangerous material were left on a roadside before being put in an open skip and transferred to a salvage yard, a court has heard.
The pipes, lined with asbestos insulation, were removed from HMS Sultan naval training base in Gosport in September 2009 as part of works to replace a hot water system.
Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court was told today (20 March) that Southampton-based VT Flagship Ltd was responsible for the works as the main contractor for the HMS Sultan site.
The company contracted Hertfordshire-based PPSL District Energy Limited to remove the pipes and associated materials before PPSL in turn employed a local welding firm and pipe fitter to undertake the work.
Magistrates heard that the old pipes were stacked by the side of the road at the base before they were placed in an open metal recycling skip and transferred to Demolition and Salvage Ltd in Hilsea.
The salvage firm contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 20 October 2009 after discovering their premises was contaminated with asbestos from the pipes.
A subsequent HSE investigation identified that both VT Flagship and PPSL had failed to identify the presence of asbestos in the pipes as a result of inaccurate assumptions and failures to undertake thorough checks and surveys.
HSE also established that employees from both companies, as well as workers from the salvage yard, the welder and pipe fitter sub-contracted by PPSL plus anyone in the vicinity of the contaminated pipes, including passing Navy personnel, could justly be deemed ‘at risk’ to asbestos exposure.
The insulation material should have been properly identified and safely removed and disposed of by a licensed asbestos removal specialist.
PPSL District Energy Limited, of Boxwell Road, Berkhamstead, Herts, was fined a total of £18,000 and ordered to pay £4,291 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
VT Flagship Ltd, of Grange Drive, Hedge End, Southampton, was fined £12,000 with costs of £5,196 after also pleading guilty to a single breach of the same legislation.
After the hearing HSE Inspector Adam Wycherley said:
“Before anyone undertakes any demolition or refurbishment works they must take appropriate steps to ensure they have reliable information regarding the materials they are dealing with, an essential requirement that is specifically in place to identify the presence of asbestos.
“VT Flagship and PPSL District Energy both failed in this regard. They wrongly assumed there was no asbestos without carrying out proper checks to back that up with hard evidence.
“As a result a number of workers for several different companies, as well as passing Navy personnel, were put at unnecessary risk. Anyone walking past the pipes could have inhaled fibres as they became airborne, and they posed a major contamination hazard.
“Thousands of people die every year as a result of asbestos-related disease, and duty holders cannot afford to take any chances or make assumptions.”
Further information on the dangers posed by asbestos can be found online at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos Notes to editors
The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
Regulation 5(a) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states: “An employer shall not undertake work in demolition, maintenance, or any other work which exposes or is liable to expose his employees to asbestos in respect of any premises unless either (a) he has carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos, what type of asbestos, contained in what material and in what condition is present or is liable to be present in those premises.”
Regulation 11(1)(a) states: “(1) Every employer shall (a) prevent the exposure of his employees to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable.”
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Issued on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive by the Regional News Network