18 January 2013
Hospital trust prosecuted for asbestos failures
Industrial disease claims could be made against a hospital trust in the north-east of England after an investigation revealed that workers had been exposed to potentially life-threatening asbestos fibres.
Contractors brought in to install cables at Sunderland Eye Infirmary between March 24th and 25th 2012 were not warned about the dangerous compound before commencing with tasks, leaving them vulnerable to infections.
A hearing at Sunderland Magistrates' Court revealed the employees drilled through door surrounds that were made of asbestos insulating board, but work did not stop until a member of Trust staff raised concerns regarding the issue.
Carrying out an investigation into the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the hospital had not given the contractors details on the location or condition of the materials, despite the fact a survey had been conducted to determine the fibres were present.
The court heard that asbestos insulating board does not pose a threat to health unless it is damaged or worked on.
As a result of the charges, City Hospitals Sunderland was fined £3,000 plus £4,582 legal costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 (9)(c)(i) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
According to research carried out by the HSE, asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and is responsible for more than 4,500 fatalities each year.
The fibres are still present in many buildings and any work likely to disturb the material should be positively managed in order to prevent exposure.
Commenting after the legal proceedings, HSE inspector Shuna Rank said: "This incident was entirely preventable and highlights the importance of having a robust asbestos management system in place.
"City Hospitals Sunderland had put considerable resources into identifying where asbestos was in the hospital buildings but failed to have efficient procedures in place to ensure the information was passed to the contractors."
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Posted by Francesca Witney