York-based contractor William Anelay has been fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 of costs, after exposing workers to unacceptable levels of stone dust.
The firm specialises in the restoration, conservation and refurbishment of listed and historic buildings and properties.
York Crown Court heard that two employees, who had been working at William Anelay as stonemasons for many years, fell ill after being exposed to uncontrolled levels of respirable crystalline silica, which is caused primarily by dry stone carving without extraction ventilation or use of protective equipment. The exposure occurred between May 1994 and July 2008.
High levels of airborne silica had been identified 14 years earlier during a monitoring survey, but subsequent measures taken to protect employees were not adequate.
As a result of the exposure both men have been left with long-term lung damage. So severe are their disabilities that one of the men has since been forced to take early retirement and the other man has been unable to return to work as a stonemason.
HSE Inspector Julian Franklin said: “Today’s verdict shows that the working practices at William Anelay were inadequate and dangerous. During the investigation, HSE found that a combination of dry stone cutting with no ventilation or use of protective clothing resulted in the workers breathing in hazardous levels of respirable crystalline silica. This was allowed to happen for many years, which has meant that not only do both men have to cope with life-long, serious health issues which will affect them for the rest of their lives, their careers have also been affected.
“Had the company acted on the information they received after a survey in 1994, these men may not now be suffering from serious illnesses.
“I would like to remind employers working with silica-based materials such as limestone, cement, mortar and sandstone, that it is vital that they take the correct steps to prevent a similar situation. HSE has produced a lot of practical advice and guidance for employers about this issue, which can be found either by visiting our website at www.hse.gov.uk, contacting our information line on 0845 345 0055, or your local HSE office.”