Asbestos - how good is your survey?
A contractor has recently been fined for exposing its employees to asbestos during work at a domestic tower block in Motherwell resulting in a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, a court case and a fine.
Hamilton Sheriff Court heard that electricians employed by IQA Operations Group Ltd had been drilling through asbestos panels to fit electric cables for the installation of a new low voltage distribution system. An asbestos survey had been carried out prior to the works but did not consider the panels above the entrance doors to each flat.
The electricians started work on the site and drilled holes through the door transom panels in all of the flats within the building. They were not aware that the panels contained asbestos so no control measures were in place to mitigate against the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. It was only when a resident raised a concern that the panels may be made of, or contain asbestos, that work was stopped and the panels tested and identified as containing asbestos. Immediate action was taken to decontaminate the flats, which meant the local authority having to house the residents while remedial actions were carried out.
A subsequent HSE investigation found that IQA had failed to:
- provide and maintain a safe system of work to identify the presence of asbestos in the transom panels; and
- carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk to their employees from asbestos when carrying out the work they were asked to do.
They were fined £6,000 after pleading guilty to safety breaches.
A safe system of work and importantly, a comprehensive asbestos management survey and management plan would have stopped or at the very least, greatly reduced the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres for the workers and the residents, particularly as the panels were not hidden away and were to all intents and purposes in plain sight. Even a ‘presumption’ that the panels contained asbestos would have avoided this incident.
Although in a residential, local authority property, this sort of incident could easily happen anywhere. How confident are you with your asbestos management, your survey and your register? Many surveys contain a whole host of caveats and areas of exclusion, when in fact a simple discussion prior to the survey being carried out would almost certainly reduce these and give you greater confidence/reliability, both in your survey and your subsequent management plan.’