The owner of a nightclub in Bolton was recently fined for failing to carry out an asbestos survey before beginning refurbishment work, putting workers at risk. But what precautions should have been made before renovating when asbestos may be involved?
Charles McGrath, the owner of Level nightclub, undertook management of the refurbishment in 2015 without an experienced contractor to manage the site, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). By failing to implement a survey for asbestos, around 20 workers were potentially exposed to asbestos dust and fibres.
The club was brought to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in August 2015 following a complaint from Bolton Council regarding unsafe construction works.
HSE inspector Matt Greenly said: “Mr McGrath totally failed in his duty to protect his workers, subcontractors and anyone else accessing this site from a foreseeable risk of serious harm. Asbestos related diseases are currently untreatable and claim the lives of an estimated 5,000 people per year in the UK.”
In Manchester Magistrates’ court, Mr McGrath pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5 (a) and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, along with further health and safety regulations, and was fined £5,720 with costs of £3,535.
District Judge Sanders declared that the nightclub owner had chosen to rush the refurbishment works, opting for unqualified contractors and so committing offences amounting to a ‘degree of cost cutting at the expense of safety’.
But what should be done prior to refurbishment and construction work when asbestos may be suspected?
In the UK, asbestos was used for insulation purposes in public buildings until 1999. This means that any buildings erected prior to 2000 could potentially contain asbestos. Any amount of asbestos should be treated with the utmost caution. While dormant and isolated behind walls, asbestos may not pose a risk as long as it remains undisturbed. In the event a property undergoes renovations, which may disturb the asbestos, that is when the risk becomes severe.
What Does The Law Say?
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 outlines that any work site, especially one that the public could access, needs to ensure that any asbestos is registered, maintained and eventually removed.
If asbestos is found in non-domestic premises, such as the aforementioned case of the nightclub, the owner has a responsibility to protect anyone using or working within the premises from the potential health risks of exposure to asbestos.
If an owner wishes to carry out any building or maintenance work then any potential asbestos contamination needs to be identified with a full risk assessment. A licensed asbestos contractor must be employed to survey the property, and carry out any management, handling and removal of asbestos.
The reason for such precautions when carrying out building and maintenance work is due to the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties of asbestos. Exposure to asbestos can lead to asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, pleural thickening and mesothelioma.
A lack of awareness of the dangers of asbestos can have fatal consequences. Victims of exposure to asbestos may not be aware of the consequences for many decades after the initial exposure until it is possible for doctors to diagnose mesothelioma, a truly tragic disease that, beyond measure, is worth an employer’s cost of following the rules when it comes to asbestos safety.
When it comes to asbestos in a domestic property, under no circumstances should you attempt to disturb, handle or get rid of it yourself. The laws on the incorrect disposal of asbestos would apply a serious health risk would be imposed on the household and the public.
For further reading on home renovations, see: Where Could Asbestos be in my House?
Register Exposure to Asbestos Today
In the unfortunate event that you believe that you may have been exposed to asbestos it is essential that you register this exposure as soon as possible.
Madelene Holdsworth is a principal lawyer specialising in asbestos claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have a specialist team of asbestos compensation solicitors that deal with asbestos claims on a No Win No Fee basis. For a free consultation call 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.