Staffordshire County Council and a refurbishment firm have been fined for exposing a nursery class, school staff and two joiners to asbestos fibres.
The incident took place during a refurbishment project at Glenthorne Community Primary School in Cheslyn Hay in February 2009 lead by G Evans (Services) Ltd, of Rudgley, who were contracted by Staffordshire County Council.
Stafford Crown Court heard that two joiners were cutting through a large built-in cupboard in the nursery class when they found an unidentified material nailed to the back of it. They showed this material to their site manager, who instructed them to carry on dismantling the cupboard and to detach the material.
The work was undertaken on Friday, 13th February 2013 and the following Monday an analyst, who was monitoring asbestos levels in the air during licensed asbestos removal work, noticed asbestos containing material in an open skip. The school was closed immediately for investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The material nailed to the back of the built-in cupboard, which was detached and place in an open skip, was identified as asbestos insulating board (A.I.B). The HSE stated that the joiners used an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clear up dust and debris, which would have further spread asbestos fibres in the air.
The Court heard that A.I.B is required by law to be handled by a licensed contractor and that the joiners were not qualified thus the material was not removed in the correct controlled conditions. At this point seventeen children aged between three and four, were in the classroom for half-day sessions together with a teacher and teaching assistant. In addition, a school cleaner, who was working in the classroom later in the day, was also exposed to the potentially dangerous substance.
The investigation into the incident found Staffordshire County Council had failed to carry out a pre-refurbishment asbestos survey in the nursery before work started. These surveys are legally required to ensure that anyone who was likely to work or disturb asbestos was provided with information on the location and condition of the asbestos. It was found that G Evans (Services) Ltd had not taken sufficient steps to identify the material attached to the cupboard before work started and its procedures for identifying asbestos containing materials were inadequate and lead to the site manager assuming the material was safe to work with. The HSE advised that the work should have been stopped until the material had been investigated further.
Staffordshire County Council, of Tipping Street,Stafford, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was today (14 December) fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs. G Evans (Services) Ltd, of Wheelhouse Road, The Towers, Rugeley, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs.
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Published Dec 19, 2012