HSE prosecute nightclub owner for asbestos breaches

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The owner of a nightclub in Bolton has been prosecuted for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act during refurbishment of his three-storey building in the summer of 2015. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took action against both the company as an entity, and the owner individually, for three asbestos-related issues:

These were failing to:

  • Ensure the health and safety of non-employees
  • Reduce the spread of asbestos
  • Carry out the required risk assessment prior to work commencing

HSE and other bodies including local authorities have powers to enforce the Act which is designed to protect people in their working environment, and ensure that employers prioritise worker safety.

The owner as a ‘duty-holder’

Owning or managing a non-domestic property brings with it serious responsibilities in terms of health and safety. Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 but its widespread use prior to this means there’s a high likelihood that older properties will contain the substance in some form.

The person responsible for managing this risk is termed the ‘duty-holder’ and is generally the same person who is in charge of building maintenance and upkeep. Being a duty-holder entails complying with the statutory requirements surrounding asbestos, including reducing the likelihood of asbestos exposure.

The Health and Safety Executive offers training and guidance for anyone likely to come into contact with asbestos, including workers, contracting firms, and duty-holders.

So what precautions should the owner have taken?

Asbestos awareness training is open to all, with courses available both online and in a classroom setting. Amongst other topics these courses explain the dangers posed by breathing in asbestos fibres, the life-threatening diseases that can develop, and the legislative demands placed on various people including employers and contractors.

The duty-holder has a responsibility to follow certain procedures and adopt specific practices to manage the exposure risk in their building, including:

  • Formulating an asbestos management plan to mitigate the risk
  • Maintaining an asbestos register that shows where asbestos may lie, its condition, and whether any works are due to be carried out in these areas of the building
  • Developing a system to inform contractors and others who might disturb the asbestos about its condition and location

UKATA online training for duty-holders

The UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) sets the standards in asbestos training. Asbestos awareness courses are available online and take around 90 minutes to complete on average, ending with a quiz to test the candidate’s knowledge and understanding.

Those responsible for managing asbestos in their building can obtain a full understanding of their obligations and responsibilities by undergoing asbestos training, and in doing so, mitigate their own risk of potential prosecution.

Some describe the use of asbestos as a legacy issue, but the sheer number and nature of our older buildings means it is one that will remain with us for decades to come.