Building safety rules ignored as workers are exposed to asbestos


There is no excuse for anyone – particularly those involved in construction safety issues – to be unaware of the potentially deadly risks of asbestos, over 30 years since its use in new buildings was banned. Yet sadly, too many cases still come to light where renovation and demolition work goes on which does not safely take this material into account, and which puts workers or the public at risk. This is a bad example of such dangerous behaviour, which took place recently (in January 2013).

Somer Community Housing Trust owned a residential building in New King Street, Bath.

They hired Geoff Thomas and Son to replace a basement ceiling in the property. Two employees of the contractor were instructed to remove the old ceiling structure, which they did by using hand tools and by using their hands.

No decontamination measures

However, this ceiling was constructed of asbestos insulation board, which could be highly dangerous. It was only after the firm realised what it was that they stopped the men from working on it. They then compounded the problem – instead of sending them to clean themselves of any contamination on their skin, tools and clothing, the firm instructed them to carry on with other tasks without a break.

The specific problems were:

  1. Geoff Thomas and Son Ltd was not licensed to work with asbestos
  2. It did not advise the HSE (as required by the regulations) before beginning work
  3. No survey was carried out to identify the presence of asbestos
  4. There were no plans drawn up for the handling of the material
  5. Workers were needlessly exposed to risk
  6. The men did not clean up and could have brought contamination home with them
  7. The breaking of the old ceiling could have spread the risk, contrary to the 2012 Regulatons

Inevitably the firm was fined, at Bath Magistrates: the wider question is how the lesson can be learned by others, and the needless risks avoided.  Nearly every renovation project is a potential asbestos risk, so widespread was the use of asbestos in buildings pre-1980.

There is no shortage of advice on this topic. Those who want a primer should visit

The simple imperative for general contractors is never to remove asbestos – it is required that a licensed contractor be engaged to do it. Do not be tempted to cut corners and hope for the best – it very bad practice, and neither workers or the courts will accept it.

Asbestos awareness training is also necessary for workers, and this can be carried out by McCormack Benson Health & Safety: the specialist building safety consultancy firm will also advise contractors on how to proceed to get the job done in an efficient way, while protecting workers and building users; and while keeping the firm’s principals out of court.