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Asbestos survey missed ceiling boards

29 Aug 12 Two Lincoln companies have been fined after workers were exposed to asbestos during the refurbishment of a Northamptonshire hospital ward.

Contractors Simons Construction Ltd hired Rilmac Insulation Ltd to carry out an asbestos survey before work began at St Mary’s Hospital, Kettering. The survey identified an asbestos coating on the underside of the ceilings, but missed more than 200 square metres of asbestos insulation board (AIB) above.

Northampton Magistrates’ Court was told yesterday (28 August) that when two workers contracted to Simons were told to knock holes in the ceilings on 17 December 2009, they were not told it contained asbestos and they disturbed both layers.

They had the wrong type of masks, they were not wearing protective overalls and they were not working in a way that would minimise and contain the release of fibres. Asbestos material landed on their clothes, which they wore for the rest of the day, increasing their chances of contamination.

The court heard how the workers unwittingly increased the risk to themselves when they swept up the debris and left it in a pile on the floor. It was only discovered when a company contracted to remove the ceilings the next month recognised the material. A licensed asbestos removal company then spent several weeks removing the ceilings.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that the fully qualified surveyor from Rilmac Insulation Ltd had identified asbestos on the underside of the plasterboard ceiling, which did not need to be removed by licensed contractors, but had failed to identify the layer of AIB above it, which did.

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HSE also found that the two men carrying out the work for Simons had not been trained to recognise asbestos containing materials or how to work safely with it.

Simons Construction Ltd, of Doddington Road, Lincoln, and Rilmac Insulation Ltd, of Crofton Drive, Allenby Road Industrial Estate, Lincoln, both pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at Northampton Magistrates’ Court.

Simons Construction Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,911 while Rilmac Insulation Ltd was fined £3,500 with costs of £2,911.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Martin Giles said: "Rilmac failed to properly identify the full extent of asbestos in the ceiling, while Simons, despite knowing from the survey that some was present, failed to provide a safe system of work, to supervise matters sufficiently and to pass on the information it did have adequately to its contractors.

"Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Every year around 4,500 people die from asbestos-related diseases. It is vital that work with asbestos is properly planned and supervised and that workers are made aware of the dangers and given the correct protective equipment and training to prevent exposure to this deadly substance."

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