Waltham Forest council in London have been given a fine of £66,000 for placing staff, contractors and the general public at risk of exposure to the dangers of exposure to asbestos.
In a survey that was commissioned in 2002, asbestos was identified in the basement of the Waltham Forest Town Hall. Despite warnings following the survey, the Waltham Forest council put staff at risk by ignoring the contamination, with asbestos found on pipes, walls and ducting in 2012.
Following the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, Chris Tilley, said, “Waltham Forest was aware of the asbestos in the basement as far back as 1984. It was also aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks. However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade. Over that period, an unquantifiable number of its own employees plus workers from maintenance companies and similar were regularly exposed to these hazards.”
In Court, Judge Deborah Taylor handed down the reduced fine of £66,000, stating it would been £100,000 if the council had not pleaded guilty.
The HSE inspector went on to say that it “is impossible to ascertain what injury may have been caused in this case” given the powerful carcinogenic properties of asbestos. With repeated warnings of the asbestos contamination, apparently dating farther back than the 2002 survey, by not acting in the interest of staff’s safety, many people could have faced extenuating health problems that doctors would have difficulty diagnosing for some time.
The symptoms of Mesothelioma are not the same as other commonly-known poisons, which act quickly with their effects on the body more obvious in a short amount of time. The effects of exposure to asbestos may not even result in an immediate cough or cold, with breathing difficulties and chest pains evident decades after the exposure has taken place.
Asbestos dust has the ability to cling to clothing and hair, and so is easily and unknowingly transported. Because of this, it is not only the staff at the Waltham Forest Town Hall that could have been exposed to the asbestos contamination, but their families and the wider public.
Slater and Gordon Principle Lawyer, Edmund Young, said, "Unfortunately, these incidences of exposure to asbestos are becoming common place, and show a total lack of concern for the safety of members of the public, workers and their families. Mesothelioma is a fatal condition and has devastating consequences. Waltham Forest Town Hall could and should have acted upon the asbestos survey commissioned in 2002, and their failure to do so is culpable."
Awareness of the effects of asbestos is, devastatingly, far lower than it should be. In Britain there is currently a higher rate of deaths due to asbestos-related cancer, such as Mesothelioma, than road traffic accidents. For more information on this, read our previous blog on Global Asbestos Awareness Week.
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