Untrained builders jailed for asbestos dangers to workers
As any inspector from HSE will confirm, it is difficult enough trying to police the work of trained principal contractors and subcontractors in building safety terms, but when someone tries to go it alone without any serious know-how or experience in construction, they represent an accident waiting to happen – as in this case, where the perpetrators have received custodial sentences for serious infringements of safety regulations.
Brothers Akram Hussain (a 52-year old manager of a snooker hall) and Inam Hussain (aged 47, a taxi driver), both of Stoke-on-Trent, have been moonlighting as contractors, albeit without a company structure, and have been demolishing/refurbishing an old printing factory at Scotia Road, Burslem over a 10-year period.
Unsurprisingly for an old commercial premises, the building contained asbestos. The Hussains had no licence to remove this deadly material, neither did they have any experience in dealing with it.
Extended exposure for site staff
An HSE inspection brought to light the fact that seven (or possibly many more) workers at the site – from ages as young as 17 in one case – had asbestos exposure, from at least February 2012. Furthermore, despite the long-running nature of the works there had been no:
- asbestos surveys
- CDM Co-ordinator appointment
Continued inspector visits and enforcement notices were ignored by the Hussain brothers, culminating on 17th February 2012 in:
- a Prohibition Notice that specifically forbade any work with asbestos or any work that might disturb the material
- a Direction to Leave Undisturbed until the HSE had given permission to restart work
Managers ignored HSE Notices
Despite these very explicit stop instructions, the managers then arranged for several lorry-loads of demolished asbestos-containing rubble to be driven off-site. These were then driven to a Stoke-based waste site that is not licensed for asbestos disposal. What made matters even worse was that inspectors saw site workers coated with dust, and not wearing the necessary PPE, as they left the demolition site.
So just 8 days later on 25th February, HSE issued another Prohibition Notice to Akram Hussain, as well as an Improvement Notice. (Despite the continued work, there had still been no asbestos survey or CDM appointment).
And again, some three months later HSE tried again by serving a new Prohibition Notice and Improvement Notice, this time on Inam Hussain, on 18th May. This specifically listed the unauthorised removal of asbestos as well as repeating the issue about the lack of a CDM Coordinator. It of course was open to the brothers, in view of their lack of knowledge, to have appointed specialist construction consultants like McCormack Benson Health & Safety in the CDM role. This would have provided them with the expert guidance and assistance with regulations that they so badly needed.
In fact, they did belatedly commission an asbestos survey. Amazingly, even after this they carried on work that was disturbing asbestos-containing material.
At Stafford Crown Court, both people in charge entered a guilty plea. They had breached section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Akram Hussain was treated as the prime offender and as such he was sent to prison for 22 weeks as well as being liable for all the prosecution costs totalling £43,000. His brother Inam was jailed for 14 weeks.
It was left for the HSE inspector Lindsay Hope to sum up thus:
It is essential at the outset of a building refurbishment to first seek specialist advice regarding the possible presence of asbestos within that building. Only with the full knowledge of what is present, or not, can any asbestos then be dealt with safely. Failure to identify and deal with any asbestos can lead to it being damaged and people then breathing in the fibres. The Hussains failed in their duty by choosing to ignore the dangers of this hidden killer.