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Firms prosecuted over asbestos exposure

Two companies have been prosecuted after workers were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres at a mill in Bolton.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took legal action after finding dozens of damaged asbestos boards stacked up during a visit in October 2010.

Manchester Crown Court heard that neither company had put a plan in place to manage the asbestos in the mill on Tennyson Street, where several small businesses rent units.

HSE became aware of the issue when a contractor on the site raised concerns that asbestos insulation boards had been stripped out of unoccupied floors at the mill, releasing potentially deadly asbestos fibres into the air.

Inspectors issued two Prohibition Notices banning the removal of tools and other items from four floors of the mill in case they had become contaminated with asbestos fibres, and preventing access to the floors.

They also found that asbestos was present in other parts of the mill, occupied by tenants, but nothing had been done to protect it and make sure it was safe.

Asbestos boards were commonly used up until the 1980s to help insulate buildings, to build partition walls and as ceiling tiles. The boards only become dangerous if they are broken up and asbestos fibres are released into the air.

Fibres that are breathed in can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract, and may lead to lung cancer or other diseases if large numbers of fibres are inhaled. However, symptoms may not appear for several decades.

Around 4,000 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

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