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Asbestos warning after company prosecuted

August 6th 2009

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning employers of the need to manage asbestos at their premises after a Canadian company were prosecuted for potentially exposing employees and contractors to carcinogenic fibres at their Swansea plant.

Vale Inco Europe Ltd pleaded guilty, on 9 June 2009, at Swansea Magistrates' Court, to four charges under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 in relation to refurbishment work being carried by a contractor, A-Weld, on a furnace at the company's premises in Clydach.

At Cardiff Magistrates Court on Thursday 6th August 2009, Vale Inco Europe Ltd was fined �12,000 and ordered to pay costs of �28,000.

The company had carried out asbestos surveys on the buildings on their site, but had not surveyed the interior of plant and equipment. As a result, asbestos insulation material within the reformer furnace was disturbed and broken, giving rise to powder and fibres, which posed a greater risk.

Workers discovered a white material they suspected of being asbestos, and a sample was sent for analysis, but the site was not isolated and work was allowed to continue until the results of the tests confirmed that the material was asbestos.

However, whilst the company then followed advice from a licensed asbestos contractor to damp down the area, the men originally working on the furnace had removed their overalls and external clothing in an area in which no-one was wearing masks or protective equipment.

HSE Principal Inspector Andrew Knowles said: "There are numerous failures in this case, including the failure to assume that asbestos would be present in the reformer furnace unless it could be proved that it was not. Knowledge that asbestos insulation was present would have resulted in a licensed contractor being used to remove the material and prevented these workers coming into contact with asbestos at all".

"Another important aspect was the failure to provide asbestos awareness training for employees, which is a specific requirement where asbestos may be present in a workplace".

"Asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Every week, 20 tradesmen die from asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma - a cancer of the lining of the lung caused by asbestos".

"The failures in this case were entirely preventable and the defendant fell far short of the high standards required. This should serve as a warning to others about the dangers of asbestos and the legal requirement to manage it properly."

HSE has been running a campaign, called "Hidden Killer," to raise awareness of asbestos amongst tradespeople. The campaign website http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/hiddenkiller/index.htm [1]contains information about asbestos and how to manage it.

M3 Asbestos have also been taking an active part in the campaign by promoting the "Hidden Killer" information prominently on our websites.

M3 Asbestos run regular Asbestos Awareness courses (free of charge) that advise employers of their liability and duty to manage asbestos. Contact us if you wish to attend our next course.

Notes to Editors

Details of the charges under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and a summary of these is as follows:

  • Breach of regulation 4(3): Vale Inco Europe Ltd failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment as to whether asbestos was or was liable to be present in the premises.
  • Breach of Regulation 5: The company had not carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment to identify any asbestos present, or alternatively assumed that it was, before starting the work.
  • Breach of regulation 10(1): Failure to ensure that adequate information, instruction and training was provided for employees and non-employees who were liable to be exposed to asbestos.
  • Breach of Regulation 11(1): Failure to prevent exposure of employees and non-employees of Vale Inco Europe Ltd to asbestos.

News story is courtesy of the Heath and Safety Executive - 304/W/09/AP 6 August 2009


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