In March 2015, Westminster Magistrates heard a case involving a council exposing staff to asbestos.
Waltham Forest Borough Council commissioned a survey of its Town Hall in 2002. The survey found asbestos to be present in the basement. Despite the hazardous material being identified, the council failed to take action and put the necessary controls in place to ensure no one was exposed to the potentially lethal asbestos. For the next ten years, Town Hall staff and contractors were allowed access to the basement and could have been exposed to the asbestos there.
In January 2012, the council commissioned a further survey of the building, again this found asbestos was present in the basement. It was also highlighted that the issues raised in the 2002 survey had not been dealt with.
The asbestos issue only came to the public’s attention in mid 2012 when a local resident requested sight of election expenses paperwork. The request was denied on the basis that the documentation was contaminated with asbestos. The resident then contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), using their ‘Mythbuster Challenge Panel’, this considers incidences where health and safety has been used by companies as a reason for not carrying out certain activities.
The panel reviews the circumstances and states whether the company was correct or simply using health and safety as an excuse.
Once the issue of asbestos in the Town Hall basement had been brought to the attention of the HSE it was referred to inspectors to carry out investigations. It was found that the council did not have any plan in place for managing asbestos risks and they did not have an adequate system for inspecting asbestos.
The HSE served Waltham Forest Borough Council with an Improvement Notice, this required them to formulate an adequate management plan for dealing with the asbestos found in the surveys.
The case was heard at Westminster Magistrates and the council pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 along with a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. They were fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs.
Speaking after the hearing, Chris Tilley, HSE inspector, said:
“Waltham Forest was aware of the asbestos in the basement as far back at 1984. It was also aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks. However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade. Over that period, an unquantifiable number of its own employees plus workers from maintenance companies and similar were regularly exposed to these hazards.”
This case highlights the fact that asbestos problems are still ongoing. Each month new cases are brought by the HSE against companies who are failing their employees and the general public by putting them at risk of potentially lethal asbestos exposure.
Unfortunately, due to the latency period of the development of asbestos conditions such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural thickening, it could be up to 50 years before those exposed to asbestos have to deal with the consequences.
If you have been exposed to asbestos recently, you would not be aware of any asbestos related condition for between 10 and 50 years. Unfortunately, once exposure has occurred there is nothing you can do to prevent an asbestos condition from developing, although thankfully only a very small number of people who are exposed to asbestos go on to develop a condition.
If you are unfortunate enough to suffer with an asbestos related condition in the future, you may be able to claim compensation.
If you have been exposed to asbestos recently you should document how and where you were exposed, the insurance details, if you know them, and any witness details who may be able to provide evidence of your exposure. This will assist you, should you need to make a claim for compensation in the future.