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Firms fined £260,000 for asbestos breaches

Two Essex firms were fined in excess of a £250k yesterday after pleading guilty to placing their employees at risk of exposure to asbestos.

R Maskell of Loughton, Essex, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £30,000 by Ipswich Crown Court after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2.1 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 18 of the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996.

LCH Contracts, based in Great Burstead, Billericay, was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,821.00 by the same Crown Court. The company pleaded guilty to two Health and Safety breaches of Regulation 15 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 and Regulation 7 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002.

Between August and September 2005, R Maskell, while carrying out refurbishment work and discovering asbestos, sub-contracted LCH Contracts to carry out asbestos removal work at St Francis Tower, Franciscan Way, Ipswich.

HSE inspectors visited the site in September to inspect the asbestos removal work taking place. They became very concerned over the state of the building as there was debris on floors and in black sacks on most floors of the 15-storey tower block. Some of the debris appeared to be asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Work was then stopped in the building.

The HSE investigation found that the building was contaminated with ACMs and evidence was found that asbestos insulation board had not been removed following adequate safety procedures. It had been removed without using a wet strip technique - wetting of the product to prevent fibre release during removal.

HSE Inspector, Nicola Surrey said: “Every year a 1000 people who worked in building maintenance and repair trades die from past exposures to asbestos fibres.

'The exposure of the employees from R Maskell and LCH Contracts to asbestos could and should have been avoided by straightforward safety precautions. HSE will not hesitate to take action against those who fall short of the law in such a way.

'Asbestos must be properly managed to prevent people dying from asbestos-related diseases in the future. If you are responsible for managing the maintenance and repair of a building, you must manage any asbestos in it. HSE has provided guidance to help people understand what they have to do to comply with their legal obligations.'