4,000 people still die every year in the UK from asbestos-related disease. This makes it the single biggest work-related killer in this country. We recently came across one particular story that highlights these issues, and we hope that by publicising the story, others might be compelled to use the variety of services that are on offer to assist with asbestos related health and safety issues.
The story relates to a company based in Rochdale, who refurbished furniture for restaurants, pubs and hotels. This company moved premises, into a mill, where they adapted their unit to create a mezzanine level for storing foam, to be used in stuffing furniture. So far so good, except that the underside of the roof of the mill contained asbestos, and this was now becoming dislodged by the furniture makers moving the foam. As the foam was dragged and dropped to the main floor, the asbestos was disturbed, and the fibres released into the air. For five years, 30 employees worked in the unit, all of them unaware of the danger to which they were now being exposed.
As you will know from this site, there is a legal requirement for companies to carry out an asbestos survey, prior to even moving in. In this case, the company failed to do so.
To further exacerbate matters, the asbestos material was noted by both concerned staff, and a Health and Safety inspector who did eventually visit the premises on an unrelated matter, noticing that the material in the ceiling looked like asbestos and was in a bad state. Forcing the company to undertake an asbestos survey, the results were, indeed, positive, and proved that fibres had spread across the building. The company was immediately served with a Prohibition Notice, denying access to the building. But even then, the company put profit ahead of safety when the owners returned to the building to retrieve £25,000 worth of furniture, in contravention of that notice.
The employees of this particular company now have to live out their lives with the fear they might develop lung problems, as a result of the reckless actions of their employer. There is legal redress, however, and the full weight of the law was applied in this case. Prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive, the company’s owners pleaded guilty to two breaches of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, for failing to ensure the health and wellbeing of their employees. They were fined a total of £30,000.
And that is a lot more than they would have had to pay for a simple asbestos survey, and even the removal of that asbestos, in the first instance.