General Motors fined £120,000 for asbestos exposure

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Fine of £120,000 for asbestos exposure following failure to identify asbestos in building refurbishment

Background

Companies face very heavy fines for failing to ensure that they have properly surveyed any buildings that they are going to refurbish or demolish if they contain asbestos. This case demonstrates how seriously the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Courts take such breaches.

Introduction

General Motors UK Ltd has been fined £120,000 after it was discovered that asbestos boarding panels had contaminated a site.

Summary of Facts

The company was prosecuted by the HSE after work being undertaken at its Ellesmere Port site in 2014 exposed contractors to asbestos.

The HSE inspector found that during work to replace boilers in the company’s paint unit, suspected asbestos insulating boards (AIB) were discovered beneath external cladding.

The investigation identified that contractors carrying out the refurbishment had complied with their responsibilities under the asbestos regulations, insofar as they had submitted a risk assessment and method statement for the work which was originally due to traverse a roof.

However, when the location of the new pipework was changed, no review of the risk assessment in relation to asbestos was undertaken. Unfortunately, subsequent sampling that was carried out confirmed the presence of asbestos.

Furthermore, the company failed in its responsibilities regarding the asbestos register and ensuring that it was available to all contractors. On the day that the suspected boards were discovered, the asbestos register was not fully available to the contractor, so that they were unable to check whether the boards contained asbestos. Additionally, once this was discovered by the company, no instruction was given to the contractor to stop the work to prevent any asbestos being disturbed. So the company failed to mitigate the exposure despite being aware of it. Therefore, the work continued without suitable precautions.

Also, importantly, no assessment of the risk was undertaken by the company to ascertain if the work was notifiable or required a licensed contractor.

The company pleaded guilty to a single breach of Section 3 (1) the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £ 11,779 in prosecution costs.

Safety Smart Comment:

Prosecutions for failing to comply with the Asbestos Regulations are prevalent as according to the HSE’s statistics, asbestos related disease kills 5000 per year.

The legal starting point as required by the Asbestos Regulations is always to assume that asbestos is present and take all necessary precautions until an appropriate site survey confirms the position. Furthermore, it is essential to ascertain whether the type of asbestos identified on the register is in a category that requires a licensed asbestos contractor to remove it and also whether the job requires notification to the HSE or not.

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