Builders’ merchant hit with huge court fine over asbestos

Builders’ merchant hit with huge court fine over asbestos

From our colleagues at Barbour EHS.

A major national builders’ merchant has been hit with a huge court fine over failure to manage asbestos safely at a Middlesbrough branch.

The Merchant, which has around 600 outlets across the UK, was ordered to pay £400,000 for a string of lapses with the potential to put lives at risk.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Environmental Health Officers from Middlesbrough Council visited Jewson in Brewsdale Road, North Ormesby in October, 2019 after concerns were raised regarding damaged asbestos-containing materials.

An inspection of the site led officers to identify a number of damaged asbestos-containing materials and asbestos fibres were found to have been released.

Investigations into the management of asbestos revealed that between 2004 and 2019, despite several surveys being carried out, there had been a significant failure to properly inspect and manage asbestos at the premises.

The reports found that the company that owns the premises, was aware of the risks presented by asbestos but that no action was taken to prevent or reduce the exposure and spread of asbestos from the premises.

Judith Hedgley, Middlesbrough Council’s Head of Public Protection, said:

“Asbestos has been used extensively in many thousands of products, particularly in the construction industry. However, the health risks associated with asbestos have been known about for many years and asbestos has not been used in products since 1999.

“Due to the clear and well-established health risks, employers and owners of workplaces are required under health and safety laws to conduct surveys of their premises to identify, label, remove or effectively manage asbestos. If asbestos-containing materials become damaged they can release tiny fibres, which if breathed in or swallowed can lead to serious and potentially fatal illnesses, which can take years to develop.

“The management of the site in Middlesbrough had, over a prolonged period, failed in their responsibility to protect their workers and visitors from the risks associated with exposure to asbestos.

“It is not possible to say for certain if anyone in particular has been exposed to asbestos or if they are likely to experience any health effects, however, from the findings of the investigation we can say that overall the risks are very low.”

While the company that employed workers at the site no longer trades, legal responsibility remained with site owner, with the site owner accepting responsibility for failing to ensure that workers and visitors to the site were not exposed to risks to their health or safety from potential exposure to asbestos.

At the first hearing of the case, the site owner pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to protect the health and safety of persons not in its employment, including employees of the company working at the premises, members of the public and contract workers, by failing to effectively manage asbestos.

Appearing at Teesside Crown Court for sentencing, the company was also ordered to pay £9,664 towards the Council’s costs.

Middlesbrough Mayor Chris Cooke, the Council’s Executive member for Public Protection, said:

“Asbestos has been a health concern for many years and kills around 5,000 workers each year from past exposure.

“The very substantial fine imposed on Stark Building Materials UK Ltd sends out a clear message to employers and building owners that they must identify where asbestos is in their premises and put measures in place to manage it so that no one’s health is put at risk.”

Middlesbrough Council
September 2023

Our Comment

This prosecution again adds more weight to the current questioning around the effectiveness of the asbestos management legislative framework and the debate around whether we should introduce a new approach based on removal as opposed to management.

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