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Tracey Graham discusses Asbestos: will they never learn?

It saddens me to report on a case where a Rotherham firm continued exposing its workers to dangerous asbestos-containing materials despite advice from the local authority.

It required the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to issue a Prohibition Notice banning entry to two warehouses run by local storage firm, Rotherham Bonding Company Ltd, before employees were removed from danger. A prosecution then followed.

Rotherham Magistrates' Court heard that the local authority bought the warehouses in Oldgate Lane from Fosters of Thrybergh Ltd in July 2009 and arranged for a professional asbestos survey before demolishing them.  Rotherham Bonding Company, which ran the warehouses, had been using staff from its sister company, Fosters of Thrybergh, to empty them of their stock of wine and spirits.

The court heard Rotherham Council's surveyor spotted large amounts of damaged asbestos-containing materials on the floors where forklift trucks were operating. He advised employees and the council about his findings.

The council notified both Rotherham Bonding Company and Fosters of Thrybergh about the presence of asbestos but nothing was done and work was allowed to continue. Six of its employees were exposed to his hazard.

The HSE was informed in September 2009 and visited the site. It immediately issued the Prohibition Notice preventing entry into the buildings and later took samples which showed white and brown asbestos were present. As a result a full survey was carried out and 18 of 20 samples were found to contain significant concentrations of asbestos.

Fosters of Thrybergh Ltd, Doncaster Road, Thrybergh, pleaded guilty to two charges under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and was fined £5,500 with £6,250 towards costs.  It could hardly do otherwise, in my view. 

There is so much public knowledge about the dangers of asbestos that it flies in the face of belief that this company did not appreciate the hazard it was exposing workers to, or if it did, failed to take immediate action once on notice.  The company had been told and advised by both the local authority and by the specialist surveyor to remedy the situation but it blatantly ignored the call to take action. 

Asbestos-related diseases are responsible for around 4,000 deaths every year.  Appropriately the HSE will not hesitate to take action against those who fall short of the law, as in this case.  It is truly shocking that the company thought more of its profit that the health of its employees.

Tracey Graham is a Principal Lawyer in Personal Injury in the Manchester office of Slater and Gordon.

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