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Councils warned over asbestos risk

Local authorities have been warned against compromising asbestos removal procedures to save money.

Construction Union Ucatt has told councils that financial pressures cannot excuse failing to hire specialist asbestos contractors.

It follows the revelation that contractors working on a Decent Homes upgrade of flats in Doncaster attempted to remove asbestos without training or protective equipment.

The properties are being refurbished by arm’s length management organisation St Leger Homes as part of a £300 million programme to modernise 21,000 council houses across Doncaster.

The chief executive and chairman of St Leger Homes have been suspended following the incident.

The controversy emerged as Ucatt members across the UK reported local authorities were pressurising contractors to remove asbestos materials.

According to Ucatt Yorkshire regional secretary Derek Johnson, the issue has been complicated by recent changes in the law, which mean it is now legal for non-specialist contractors to remove certain types of asbestos materials.

“Due to confusion about the law and a lack of knowledge of the substance, workers could be risking their health,” said Mr  Johnson. “Local authorities must not let financial constraints act as an excuse when it comes to removing asbestos. Highly trained specialist contractors are the only people who should be removing it.”

Doncaster mayor Martin Winter said the St Leger Homes probe had ‘uncovered inadequate behaviour and poor practice’.

He added: “I have been raising extremely serious health and safety concerns with St Leger Homes for several weeks now and have been urging them to take the correct action to protect our tenants.”