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Breaches of asbestos regulations, and how HSE respond

Two recent breaches of asbestos regulations have demonstrated the extent of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) powers in dealing with offenders. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, intended to protect UK workers from the dangers of asbestos, are enforced by HSE who bring prosecutions for breaches of this and the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Officers of the Health and Safety Executive carry out inspections and investigations when a complaint is made, or an incident occurs. When action is taken, officers can serve notices to prohibit a particular type of work, or order operational improvement within a specified timescale.

If a prosecution is brought against an offending individual or company, it is the courts’ responsibility to decide on the punishment, however. Those convicted generally receive a fine, but imprisonment is also an option which has been used in a few cases of health and safety breaches. If the charge is manslaughter – handing down a prison sentence may be the judge’s only option.

Asbestos and the law

As far as asbestos is concerned, employers have a legal obligation to provide the necessary training for their workers. Which course is required depends on each worker’s role within their company, and for many tradespeople who could come into contact with asbestos during their working day, this involves asbestos awareness training.

HSE have specific requirements in this respect – employers can provide online or classroom-based courses for asbestos awareness, or Category A training, as it is also known, and offer a list of approved providers on their website.

No asbestos survey for demolition works

Two companies recently prosecuted under health and safety law are Mizkan Euro, the manufacturers of Branston Pickle, and also their building contractor. The companies were fined £120,000 and £45,000 respectively, for failing to protect workers from asbestos during demolition work at the Mizkan West Midlands factory.

Failure to commission or carry out an asbestos survey prior to the works being started, resulted in an asbestos insulation board being broken up with no safety measures in place, potentially spreading dangerous dust and fibres around the area.

The judge described the incident as ‘isolated,’ and a Mizkan Euro spokesperson said the company would ensure compliance with all health and safety regulations in the future.

Failure to update asbestos register

This was just one of the charges made against Dale Farm by HSE for Northern Ireland. Other issues were failure to provide an asbestos survey prior to works being carried out at the Dunmanbridge creamery, and not developing an asbestos management plan that had originally been introduced 10 years previously.

Two ventilation engineers were exposed to asbestos fibres during building work at the creamery, after the company had failed to provide them with information on the whereabouts of asbestos-containing materials. A fine of £30,000 was handed down for failing to meet health and safety legislation.

An employer’s responsibility to protect their workforce from harm is the focus of HSE’s work, and the basis on which they enforce each breach. The body also provides a wealth of information on their website, for employers, workers and the self-employed.