According to the report from IOSHmagazine.com, an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the incident in February 2016 found that a team of three maintenance personnel had been tasked with the removal of a non-return valve from the compressed air distribution system at the facility near Atwick on the East Yorkshire coast. The sealing gasket proved difficult to completely remove so the workers an electric drill with a wire brush attachment to remove the remaining material, which spread fibres from the gasket around the maintenance workshop onto floors, work benches and clothing.

Suspicions were raised over the dust and another employee reported his concerns and a sample of the dust was analysed with the results showing the presence of  chrysotile (white) asbestos fibres. SSE Hornsea later closed the maintenance workshop to prevent employees and contractors entering the contaminated area. The subsequent Magistrates court case heard that SSE Hornsea had failed to identify the presence of asbestos gaskets in its risk assessment. The HSE also told the court that records held on site, which could have helped identify the presence of asbestos, were not adequate and that the maintenance team leader involved in the task had no asbestos awareness training.

The incident raises several issues. Gaskets, particularly of this type and age often do contain chrysotile asbestos. Even if they could not be sampled during the original survey as is often the case, a presumption should have been made that they did contain asbestos and managed accordingly. Secondly, the court heard that records were ‘not adequate’ which demonstrates that there were gaps within the management plan and as is often the case, a poor survey is worse than no survey and can lead to skewed or poor management processes and thirdly, regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations requires employers to make sure that anyone liable to disturb asbestos during work, or who supervise such employees have the correct level of ‘information, instruction and training’. This does not mean in depth technical training but it must be suitable enough for them to understand the work, the control measures and appropriate law, something that was lacking in this case.

Is it time to ask questions about your asbestos management? Are you confident with your survey and your management processes? Do your staff have knowledge about where asbestos materials could be found, the risks related to them and the management requirements? Would you be comfortable with the prospect of a large fine and damage to reputation should it all go wrong? Our asbestos management review could help you identify any gaps that you may have in your asbestos management.

Steve Mills