Company fined for asbestos exposure
The Asbestos Regulations cover the identification of asbestos, assessment of the risk to workers from any work with asbestos and control measures to minimise the dangers. Part 11 of the Regulations states that, “Every employer shall prevent the exposure of his employees to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable.” Where this is not possible, the employer must “take the measures necessary to reduce the exposure of his employees to asbestos to the lowest level reasonably practicable by measures other than the use of respiratory protective equipment” and must also “ensure that the number of his employees who are exposed to asbestos at any one time is as low as is reasonably practicable.”This means that employers cannot rely solely on respiratory protective equipment but must put procedures in place to protect workers.
In this case, the court heard that the negligence of the company meant that 31 workers were exposed to asbestos between May 2005 and September 2006.
The effects of asbestos exposure can be devastating. The small fibres in asbestos can cause cancer if inhaled. One of types of cancer caused by asbestos exposure is Mesothelioma. This cancer affects the lining of the lungs and sometimes the lining around the lower digestive tract. Mesothelioma is fatal and difficult to detect. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer, Asbestosis, which is a scarring of the lungs, and Pleural thickening, which is thickening of the lining of the lungs.
The 31 workers may face these conditions later in life because of the failure of their employer to protect them from exposure.
Another recent case is that of a local Council which has issued warnings to its tenants stating that asbestos may be present in their homes. A local councillor has stated that “The presence of asbestos in housing is nothing unusual, in fact it is to be expected.” Tenants have been informed that asbestos provides a low risk to health unless the material is damaged.
The councillor further stated that “By notifying tenants of the potential presence of asbestos in their homes, we hope to reiterate the need to exercise caution.” It has been recommended that residents contact the Council before undertaking any minor building works or improvements, in case they disturb the asbestos.
Asbestos was a popular building material up until the health risks that it poses were discovered. This means that many properties across the country, including Council houses, may contain asbestos materials. The risks to inhabitants from asbestos exposure can be minimised by proper surveying and monitoring. Councils should provide advice to any tenants who are concerned about asbestos exposure.
The London company fined for exposing its workers to asbestos is just one of many throughout the country. Not including domestic properties, the HSE estimates that around 500,000 buildings in the UK still contain asbestos. If workers in these buildings are not protected by their employer, incidents such as these could be all too common.