Jail term for supplying asbestos sheets that led to a death
Because asbestos as a new building material has been banned since the beginning of the 1980s, we are normally concerned with handling existing installations, in building safety terms. Here is a rare and frankly incredible case where someone actually supplied asbestos sheets for a new roofing job. His penalty has been a spell in jail – a very unusual result of a health and safety prosecution. Normally a suspended sentence is the closest that an offender comes to a prison term.
This is due to the double offence of supplying an illegal material and contributing to the death of a man who fell through the weak roof material.
Robert Marsh (64) was the only Director of his company RM Developments (2005) Ltd, from Newport in Shropshire. He sold roofing sheets (which contained white asbestos) to a partnership that ran a farm in Frankley, Worcestershire. They needed to build a new barn there. They paid £4,000 for the sheets, thinking they would be fit for purpose. In fact, Marsh had obtained the pre-used sheets for nothing: so after £250 of transport he made £3,750 profit on an illegal transaction.
Steel erector fell through roof
The farm owners then engaged a steel erector, Tony Podmore (56) to build the barn. Towards the end of the build, on June 8th 2011, he fell through the fragile roof and died of the 6-metre fall onto concrete.
What made Marsh’s offence worse was the series of events that followed. He then:
- attempted to persuade witnesses to the accident to hide the asbestos sheets
- told the deceased’s daughter that he fell off the edge of the roof, not through it
- urged the family of Mr Podmore not to make a report to the Health & Safety Executive
He was reported as saying ‘we’ll all take the fall for this’. Only on the opening day of his trial did he change his plea to guilty, in respect of contravening The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 as well as The Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) Regulations 2008.
The outcome for him, after a 3-day hearing at Worcester Crown Court, was –
- Up to 12 months in prison
- 6–year disqualification from holding a company directorship
- Prosecution costs to pay, totalling £10,000
The judge in the case described Mr Marsh’s actions as “wholly reprehensible” and that they were the result of “selfish self-interest”. Over the three years that it took the case to come to court, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, Paul Humphries, sadly died. Mr. Podmore’s widow paid tribute to his dedication.
In any other case like this, the farm partnership would probably have borne the brunt of the prosecution for the death, and if they had insisted on the use of profiled steel sheet or some other suitable material, the death might have been avoided. As it was, Mr. Marsh’s reprehensible attempts to evade his responsibility contributed to the focus on his use of asbestos and the resulting sentence.
He must have known, to quote the HSE, that “asbestos fibres are a well-known and widely-publicised health risk and can lead to fatal illnesses. The supply of materials containing asbestos has been illegal for many years. Mr Marsh demonstrated a complete disregard for the law for his financial gain. In this case, the weak second-hand panels he supplied were a significant contributing factor to the death of Mr Podmore.