A fresh signifier of the key role that asbestos surveys can play is the news that the NHS Trust responsible for three West Hertfordshire is to be fined due to its failure to protect its staff from the risk of exposure to the dangerous substance.
The West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead – reported itself to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after concerns were raised by a new member of staff about asbestos in one of its buildings.
This was followed by a full survey and the Trust eventually pleading guilty to five charges of breaching health and safety regulations over a period of more than a decade. At a recent St Albans Crown Court hearing, it was revealed that 47 estate staff who had carried out maintenance work at the hospitals had been contacted about the breaches.
Prosecutor Adam Payter said that while no condition had been contracted by any of these workers, they were at “real risk” of contracting a disease in the future. Diseases that can be contracted due to asbestos exposure at work include both the chronic lung condition asbestosis and the rare cancer mesothelioma.
The Trust admitted at an earlier hearing before magistrates that it had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of staff exposed to asbestos between April 1, 2000 and December 6, 2011. Between November 12, 2006 and December 6, 2011, it also pleaded guilty to a failure to keep a written plan, take measures for managing the risk from asbestos and give adequate information, instruction and training to employees likely to be exposed to the fibres.
Nor, the Trust admitted, had it taken the necessary measures to reduce its employees’ asbestos exposure to the lowest reasonably practicable level.
Mr Payter, representing HSE, described sometimes “reckless” behaviour by the Trust as an aggravating factor in the case.
He commented: “It was aware of the risk, but failed to take appropriate action.
“There was considerable potential for harm to workers, there were continuing breaches rather than an isolated lapse, the defendant was aware of the risks, but ignored them. It was a continued breach and fell far below the standard required.
“However, defending QC Colin McCaul said that the Trust had been “candid with itself, the Health and Safety Executive, the court and the public”, adding that it now had a “robust, comprehensive and easily comprehensible” system in place. Sentencing by Judge Stephen Gullick is set to take place next week, in a case that simply serves of a further reminder of the value of the most appropriate and compliant asbestos surveys. Contact Trident Surveying now to learn more about our own asbestos management surveys that keep pace with the ever-changing and detailed HSE requirements.