Building firm ignored its own safety consultants’ asbestos surveys


When principal contractors carry out a refurbishment project, they must obtain an asbestos survey from safety consultants. This is of no use if they then ignore its findings – which is what this particular firm did.

Buxton Building Contractors Ltd was in 2011 carrying out refurbishment and remodelling of the dining area and kitchen in Woldingham girls’ school, near Caterham, Surrey. Buxton had commissioned a surveyor to report on the presence of asbestos, asking him to focus especially in the undercroft, which had been left off a previous report.

The survey that he produced did confirm the presence of dangerous asbestos, which would require specialist attention. Despite this, Buxton Building Contractors then unaccountably failed to take the required actions. No special safeguarding was provided onsite.

Teenage Electrician exposes dangerous asbestos

Worse still, access to the affected area was permitted to various non-specialist workers. These included a 19-year-old apprentice electrician who in July 2011 was working in the undercroft for two weeks or more. Eventually he broke through its ceiling, in doing so exposing the asbestos insulation boarding. He reported the incident and a licensed asbestos contractor was called in to seal off the area while they dealt with it appropriately.

The resulting Health and Safety Executive investigation inevitably resulted in the court prosecution of the contractor, at Guildford Crown Court. There, Buxton Building Contractors Ltd, of Caterham, Surrey, was handed down a fine of £50,000 as well as HSE costs of £26,217 as a result of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The charge was that the firm failed to plan; manage; or properly monitor the rebuilding and remodelling project.

The HSE Inspector concerned alleged that having taken the first step and gone to the trouble of commissioning a report from specialist construction health and safety consultants, “it looks as though no one at Buxton Contractors Ltd bothered to read it. Or if they did, they disregarded its contents and failed to act to protect site workers from exposure… One can only wish and hope that there are no serious consequences for these workers in the future.

As he pointed out, getting a survey done is one thing – acting on it is another, and is of course the essential part.

If you are involved in refurbishment and renovation projects, which are very much under the HSE spotlight in 2014, it is essential that you seek assistance from a firm of expert building health and safety consultants such as McCormack Benson Health & Safety. They will not stop having produced your asbestos report, but can be your hands-on resource; your CDM Coordinator if required; and your eyes and ears onsite to make sure that the project goes through safely and without exposing workers to risk or your firm to legal actions.