Asbestos – The True Cost Of Lack Of Communications

In an astonishing news report recently it was revealed that a Battersea building company has been fined for failing to highlight the known presence of asbestos insulating board (AIB) at a Berkshire warehouse that was undergoing refurbishment work.

Redwood Contractors Ltd had a detailed asbestos survey for the warehouse which clearly identified the location of the asbestos wall panels in the building in Wokingham.  However the survey was not shared with the team on the ground and the foreman of the team mistook the AIB for asbestos cement.  Because asbestos cement is a lower risk material that does not pose the same type of threat as AIM, the wall panels were removed without adequate control measures or protective equipment being used.

This resulted in the foreman and other workers on the team being exposed to potential harm during the work.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and identified a breakdown in communications which led to the prosecution of the company.  Magistrates at Reading Court were told that AIB should only be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor due to the risk of exposure to the dangerous fibres it contains.

During the investigation, HSE discovered that the site foreman was not provided with any documentation or other information about the panels despite the fact that an asbestos survey was completed only two months before the work commenced.  Because the foreman was not given the information that the panels were made from AIB the wrong type of control measures were in place when he removed them.  He and other members of the work team may have unknowingly inhaled asbestos fibres during this work which leaves them all at risk of developing terminal health problems.

Redwood Contractors Ltd was found guilty of a clear oversight that could have compromised the future health and well being of its employees.

Karen Morris, an inspector at HSE, said:

“It is disappointing that the foreman and others were needlessly put at risk simply because the asbestos survey for the warehouse wasn’t supplied to the team on the ground, or the location of the AIB relayed.  What is the point of having a suitable survey in hand if you aren’t going to act on it and share vital information with those who need to know?”

Here on the NES Asbestos blog we’ve already taken a look at how poor communication leads to problems.  This is a case of a practically non-existent communication process and has led to hefty penalties for Redwood Contractors Ltd.  Magistrates imposed fines totalling £10,000 and ordered the company to pay £2,857 in costs.

The necessary Asbestos Survey for Demolition and Refurbishment had already been carried out and the company has paid a heavy cost for neglecting to pass on the information to the team undertaking the work.  The foreman and the work team, however, are paying a much heavier price than the company as they may spend the next twenty or thirty years in fear of asbestos related cancer symptoms making an appearance.