John Lewis, trading as John Lewis Plant Hire & Contracts, received a six month sentence on each of the five counts to which he had previously pleading guilty. The sentences will run concurrently and are suspended for two years.
The case arose after the Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) visited a demolition site on the Broadway Industrial Estate (formally known as the Ulster Weavers site) following a complaint from a member of the public.
In February 2011 HSENI Inspectors attended the site to find that a building was in the process of being demolished. Inspectors immediately stopped the work due to concerns about possible asbestos contamination.
A subsequent survey of the site by HSENI’s Scientific Services found large quantities of asbestos insulating board (AIB) and asbestos cement (AC) debris present on the ground and amongst building rubble in an area where demolition work was in progress at the site.
The same contractor had previously been stopped in 2008 while demolishing other similar buildings on the site without having had an asbestos survey carried out. Following that intervention, Mr Lewis had a survey of all the buildings compiled including the building he was demolishing in 2011.
The HSENI investigation revealed that Mr Lewis had this asbestos survey from 2008 in his possession and that this report clearly showed that the building he was demolishing contained significant asbestos, which required a licensed asbestos contractor to remove. Mr Lewis was not a licensed asbestos contractor.
The site was contaminated with asbestos during the partial demolition work. In addition to this, employees of John Lewis were found on site hand picking pieces of asbestos out of the contaminated rubble without appropriate protection, such as respiratory equipment and showering facilities.
After the hearing HSENI principal inspector Louis Burns said: “The dangers of asbestos are well known. It is vital that buildings are properly surveyed for asbestos and that asbestos is removed by a licensed asbestos contractor prior to demolition. If these vital steps are not followed there is the potential for asbestos to be released and spread in an uncontrolled manner. This potentially gives rise to serious health concerns.”