Asbestos danger is ignored at builders’ peril


The deadly legacy of decades of using asbestos in construction will be with us for a long time to come. It is rightly a hot topic with Health & Safety inspectors, both from the HSE and Local Authorities, and it would be a foolish contractor who takes chances with asbestos – by doing so, that person risks their own workers and the public in general.

This truth is emphasised by a case that has just come to court.  This involved Stuart Pearson, of Verwood, Dorset, who is a self-employed building contractor. He was fined for demolishing a building in Woking, Surrey in April/May 2011 without first carrying out the required asbestos survey in accordance with the Regulations.

Survey showed the potential high risk

It was not as if he had not been put on notice.

An Asbestos Management Survey had recently been carried out on one area of the house, for the previous owner. The survey was commissioned following the refusal of a plumber to repair the boiler because of the existence of asbestos there. This Survey was given to Mr Pearson.

The survey showed there were 12 metres of poor-condition asbestos. It labelled 2 of the 3 areas ‘high risk’. Specifically it stated -

This material is in very poor condition and debris now exists around the boiler and the floor within the rest of the room. This room must not be accessed until a full environmental clean and removal of all asbestos-containing materials have been carried out by a licensed asbestos contractor.”

The survey stressed that the asbestos removal had to be done under controlled conditions, using “enclosures, airlocks, negative pressure units and decontamination units.”

Despite all of the above, Mr Pearson carried out the demolition of the house (which was due to make way for a new building) without commissioning the required pre-demolition survey on the whole building, to make sure that all asbestos was identified and removed correctly in advance of demolition.

A Woking Borough Council scientific officer raised concerns about possible asbestos contamination after he viewed the site in question. This led to an HSE inspection and follow-up prosecution of the contractor.

Mr Pearson, of Badger Way, Verwood, Dorset, pleaded guilty at Guildford Magistrates’ Court to a breach of Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. He has been fined £5,000 and also has to pay the prosecution’s costs of £7,500.

Why Asbestos Control Matters

Asbestos kills around 4000 people every year, making it the worst cause of work-related deaths in the UK: and controlling exposure to it is a key challenge in construction safety. It is a hazard that can put people in the industry at risk on a frequent basis.

If a contractor is in any doubt he needs to take prior advice and get a professional survey.  Safety consultants such as those from McCormack Benson Health & Safety can organise the whole thing and leave the builders to get on with what they do best, just as soon as specialists have removed any hazardous materials and given the all-clear.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION: Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states: An employer shall not undertake work in demolition, maintenance, or any other work which exposes or is liable to expose his employees to asbestos in respect of any premises unless either-

  1. he has carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos, what type of asbestos, contained in what material and in what condition is present or is liable to be present in those premises; or
  2. if there is doubt as to whether asbestos is present in those premises he-

2.1.   assumes that asbestos is present, and that it is not chrysotile alone, and

2.2.   observes the applicable provisions of these Regulations.