In recent testimony in a Welsh courtroom, it was reported that employees of one company had exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers, this after a catalogue of errors by an engineering company and a building firm during a demolition and refurbishment project in Swansea.
As Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports, allegations during testimony say that the project suffered from bad mismanagement, untrained staff placed in charge of the operation, and an underpinning of inadequate surveys for the presence of asbestos to go with poor planning throughout.
Neath Magistrates' Court heard that Wall Colmonoy Ltd had contracted Oaktree Construction to renovate a building opposite its premises in Pontardawe, Swansea, in December 2010 so it could further its operations.
Surveys Deemed to be Inadequate
The engineering firm had a pair of asbestos management surveys for the site, which, although later found to be inadequate, revealed the presence of asbestos material and highlighted other areas, such as the ceiling voids, which were thought to be harboring asbestos.
Even with this knowledge, work got the go-ahead in the building. Trebanos-based Oaktree had been advised by HSE that a separate 'Refurbishment and Demolition Survey' was also necessary before any activity commenced.
During the demolition works an asbestos insulation board (AIB) covering a steel column was damaged, and a Wall Colmonoy employee was informed that they should tape a plastic bags around it. Work went on in the building for a number of months with the AIB debris left sitting on the floor until an unannounced visit was undertaken by an HSE inspector.
A subsequent HSE investigation reported that Wall Colmonoy failed to appoint a competent Construction, Design and Management coordinator and principal contractor to plan and oversee the construction work. In addition, they ignored advice from its own health and safety manager to notify HSE of the demolition phase of the project, as is required by law.
Testimony was put forth that Wall Colmonoy did not provide a proper assessment of the presence of asbestos and its condition in the building prior to work beginning. The surveys they held were poor, as a licensed asbestos removal contractor had warned the information they had at their disposal was inadequate.
Skills Were Lacking to Address Health and Safety
No-one involved in the management of the project had the skills, training or experience to address health and safety issues, including the risk of asbestos exposure, according to information presented to the court. The company reportedly made no efforts to remove or control the risks from the asbestos materials that had been identified in the reports.
The HSE investigation also claimed that Oaktree failed to prevent the exposure of its employees to asbestos, and failed to maintain its spread once damage had occurred.
The company failed to provide a 'Refurbishment and Demolition Survey' and its own risk assessment was not up to speed because it failed to identify the risks from asbestos.
Lastly, Oaktree failed to carry out a structural assessment of the building and did not come forward to its staff with asbestos awareness training, despite a recommendation by the HSE in September 2010.
Wall Colomony, of Alloy Industrial Estate, Pontardawe, was fined in total $25,000 and ordered to pay $5,300 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Oaktree Construction (Wales) Ltd, of Pheasant Road, Trebanos, was hit with fines of $12,875 with costs of $3,200 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulations 16 and 11(1) (a) of the of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
Author Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com.
©2012 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.