Utility company fined after exposing employees to asbestos

A Paisley based utility services company has today been fined for exposing four of its employees to asbestos during work at Anderson Tower in Motherwell in 2014.
asbestos apartments

Hamilton Sheriff Court today heard that four electricians employed by IQA Operations Group Ltd had been drilling through door transom panels to fit electric cables into each property within the tower block as part of the installation of a new low voltage distribution system. The company had identified that an asbestos survey was carried out ahead of the works starting but did not include a survey of the transom panels above each flat entrance door.

The four electricians started work on the site on 23 June 2014 and drilled holes in the door transom panels in all 44 flats. The electricians were not aware that the panels contained asbestos so no measures were in place to control exposure to airborne asbestos fibres.

On 2 July 2017, a resident raised a concern that the panels were asbestos, work was stopped and the panels tested. The samples tested positive for asbestos. Immediate action was taken to decontaminate the flats which involved the local council making arrangements for the residents to leave their properties while the work was being done.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that IQA Operations Group Ltd had failed to provide and maintain a safe system of work to identify the presence of asbestos in the transom panels and failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk to their employees from asbestos when carrying out cable routing work. IQA Operations Group Ltd of 101 Abercorn Street, Paisley, has today been fined £6000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing, Gerry Muir HM Inspector of Health and Safety said “This incident could have easily been avoided if the company had in place a system of work to ensure that the asbestos survey it requested to be carried out covered all of the intended work areas. Failing to do this resulted in 44 asbestos panels being drilled into with no measures in place to control the risk of exposure to the resultant asbestos fibres.”

Phoenix comments:

Not only were workers exposed, but potentially 100 residents, who were asked to leave their homes after exposure and during a deep clean of all areas, were also at risk. Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year, this is more than the number of people killed on the road. Around 20 tradesman die each week as a result of past exposure. However, asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000. When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. The duty to manage asbestos is contained in regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. It requires the person who has the duty (ie the ‘duty holder’) to:

  • Take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in
  • Presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
  • Make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos- containing materials - or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos
  • Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified
  • Prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed
  • Take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
  • Periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date
  • Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them

There is also a requirement on others to co-operate as far as is necessary to allow the duty holder to comply with the above requirements.