Two Essex-based companies have been fined after exposing workers to potentially deadly asbestos over a period of years, despite knowing of its presence, in units that they occupied in Manor Road Trading Estate, Benfleet.
Basildon Magistrates heard that asbestos had been found in poor condition when Connect Packaging Ltd moved into the Benfleet premises in 2007, but that it failed to act on the findings. As a result, its employees were exposed to asbestos fibres.
When Connect Packaging Ltd moved out of the units in January 2009, it sublet them to Creo Retail Marketing Ltd, another company within its group, but continued to carry out maintenance and repair. In 2014, following the appointment of a new health and safety officer, Creo Retail Marketing Ltd undertook its own asbestos survey. This confirmed the ongoing presence of asbestos.
Despite this, workers remained exposed to risk while the two companies argued about who was responsible for its removal.
The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation, having been alerted by concerned employees. Its scientists found asbestos fibres at the workers’ clocking-in point, in the stationary cupboard and on rafters above their heads.
When asbestos fibres become airborne, they can be breathed in. Asbestos is known to cause respiratory diseases and cancers, which can be fatal. Workers at both companies were exposed to these risks over an extended period of time.
Connect Packaging Ltd was fined £65,000 and ordered to pay £8,150.23 in costs after pleading guilty to one breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, both the 2006 and 2012 regulations.
Creo Retail Marketing Ltd was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £8,149.63 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, both the 2006 and 2012 regulations.
After the hearing HSE Inspector Nikki Hughes said: “Although Connect Packaging is now under new ownership, whilst it held the lease on the units, it had a legal duty to manage asbestos within the non-domestic premises along with Creo Retail Marketing Ltd; both companies should have controlled the potentially lethal risk. Asbestos-related disease has a long latency period so it’s impossible to predict what consequences the companies’ failure to manage asbestos may have on workers’ health.
This prosecution should act as a reminder, to all persons in control of the repair and maintenance of non-domestic premises, of the need to ensure that the correct control measures are put in place to prevent exposure to asbestos, so far as is reasonably practicable.”
For further information on asbestos visit: www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/