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Workers Continue to be Exposed to Deadly Asbestos Fibres

Two companies have appeared in court recently on health and safety charges after allowing their employees to be exposed to asbestos fibres

Thirteen Workers Exposed

The company involved in one of these cases was an operator of a natural gas storage facility on the Yorkshire coast.

Three employees were tasked with the removal of a non-return valve from a compressed air distribution system. Some of the sealing gasket material was difficult to remove so they used a wire brush mounted on an electric drill to remove the gasket material, which spread fibres from the gasket around the maintenance workshop onto floors, work benches and clothing.

Two days later another employee became suspicious of the fibrous dust and arranged for a sample to be tested. It was found to contain chrysotile (white) asbestos fibres. In total 13 employees and contractors were exposed to the asbestos fibres before the maintenance workshop was eventually closed to prevent further access.

When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident, it found that the company had failed to identify in the risk assessment for this job that there were asbestos gaskets attached to the non-return valve. HSE also told the court that records held on site, which could have helped identify the presence of asbestos, were not adequate and that the maintenance team leader involved in this task had not undertaken asbestos awareness training.

Asbestos Exposure Can Cause Fatal Disease

“Employers should ensure that they have in place adequate arrangements for both the identification and management of asbestos which may be found in buildings or process plant,” explained HSE Inspector Paul Miller.

“Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre which was widely used in both building and engineering materials for its strength, heat and chemical resistance,” he added. “This can cause serious diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis which are often fatal. These diseases do not have an immediate effect, they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything.”

Failure to Follow Correct Control Measures

In a second case, construction workers were exposed to asbestos during a refurbishment project.

An asbestos refurbishment survey completed prior to construction work starting clearly indicated that the lower ground floor store room contained an asbestos insulating board (AIB) ceiling. During construction work this AIB ceiling was accidentally damaged and two employees were instructed to remove part of it. Suitable asbestos control measures were not in place and the workers involved were not trained in asbestos removal.

The HSE eventually got involved and a licensed asbestos removal contractor was brought in to clean the area.

The investigation found that the principal contractor and their site manager failed to suitably manage the site and didn’t ensure that the asbestos containing materials identified in the asbestos refurbishment survey were removed prior to any potential for disturbance during the construction work.

“This incident could so easily have been avoided by the duty holders simply carrying out correct asbestos control measures and safe working practices,” said HSE inspector Andrew Bowker.

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If you have been made ill as a result of asbestos exposure at work and would like to find out more about your compensation rights then contact our specialist personal injury lawyers today.

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