$226,000 in Fines, Costs Assessed in UK Asbestos Case

A freight company, its managing director, and a contractor pleaded guilty in connection with a remodeling job that may exposed at least 20 people to asbestos fibers.

Avon Freight Group Ltd, a company located in Redditch, England, and its managing director and a Birmingham contractor have pleaded guilty and been fined for exposing at least 20 people to asbestos fibers. The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Avon Freight and Managing Director Simon Poole, along with building contractor Ronald MacPhee, in connection with work done to remodel a building into a new storage center and company headquarters.

AFG's architect commissioned a survey that identified asbestos insulation board in partition walls the company wanted to demolish and obtained estimates for its removal from three licensed contractors, but Poole instructed MacPhee to carry out the demolition work even though he lacked a license. MacPhee and two other workers removed almost 1.5 tonnes of asbestos insulation board from the site and disposed of it as asbestos cement (which can be removed without a license) between April 24 and May 16, 2008, according to HSE.

Contractors hired to do additional demolition and build an extension subsequently found pieces of asbestos insulation board on the floor and still attached to retaining screws on the walls and alerted HSE, which investigated and determined at least 20 people -- contract workers on the project, employees of AFG, and employees of a tenant using the site for storage -- could have inhaled asbestos fibers during a five-month period before this was reported.

"As a result of the appalling failings of the company and two individuals concerned, at least 20 people now have to live with the knowledge they have been exposed to asbestos. This type of exposure could cause life-threatening illnesses in years to come but because it takes so long to develop, these people will be left with years of uncertainty," HSE inspector Tariq Khan said. "AFG and Simon Poole knew that asbestos insulation board was present in the walls and presumably knew they should get an appropriately qualified person to dispose of it, having received estimates from three properly licensed contractors. Regardless of safety, they instructed Ronald MacPhee to remove it. Only licensed contractors are allowed to remove asbestos insulating board. If we find evidence of anyone who does not have a license working with asbestos, we will not hesitate to bring enforcement action."

Avon Freight pleaded guilty Feb. 22 to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £26,147 costs (a total equivalent to $89,102 in U.S. dollars). Poole was assessed the same amounts in fines and costs, and MacPhee was order to pay about $4,761 in fines and costs.

HSE estimates asbestos causes an estimated 4,000 deaths annually in Britain.

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