A construction company has been fined after refurbishment work triggered the temporary closure of country club near Darlington over fears of exposure to asbestos.
Nationwide Building Contractors from Fareham, Hampshire was yesterday fined a total of £4,500 at Darlington Magistrates' Court over the incident.
The company was found guilty, in its absence, of breaching Regulations 5, 11 and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, between 7 January and 6 March 2008. Nationwide is now in liquidation.
The contractor had been contracted to refurbish Hall Garth Hotel Golf and Country Club, at Coatham Mundeville, near Darlington.
When HSE inspectors visited the site, they found that work was carried out without adequate checks for asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, and served a Prohibition Notice - immediately stopping construction work. Further investigations found large amounts of asbestos pipe lagging in walls and floor voids where work had been undertaken.
HSE worked with local Environmental Health Officers and the hotel management to ensure that asbestos fibres had not spread to the occupied areas of the hotel. The hotel was voluntarily closed while tests were undertaken. Fortunately the test results in the public areas were negative.
After the case, HSE inspector Victoria Wise said: "Construction and maintenance workers are the most at-risk groups from asbestos-related diseases due to the nature of their work. The widespread occurrence of asbestos as a product in buildings constructed or refurbished prior to 2000, means that inadvertent disturbance of asbestos-containing materials can be frequent and regular where asbestos products have not been adequately identified or managed.
"Nationwide Building Contractors could have prevented this risk and should have ensured that the asbestos containing materials in the work areas had been identified and, where necessary, removed - then the information passed on to those who were liable to disturb the fabric of the building.
"This prosecution should act as a reminder to those in the construction industry, and those in control of the repair and maintenance of buildings, of the importance of ensuring that a suitable and sufficient assessment for asbestos has been carried out and that the correct control measures are in place to ensure that exposure to asbestos is prevented, so far as is reasonably practicable."
Asbestos products have been widely used in the UK since the end of the 19th century and were used in the construction and refurbishment of buildings until 1999.
Asbestos can cause a number of fatal or serious respiratory conditions if fibres are inhaled. Asbestos exposure is the most serious occupational health issue in the UK, and is responsible for approximately 4,000 deaths each year.