Health bosses could face criminal charges over the presence of asbestos at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The Health and Safety Executive in Northern Ireland (HSENI) carried out a probe into an incident at the hospital in February 2011 and has sent a file to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
An HSENI spokesman said the investigation centred around an incident involving asbestos in a basement area not accessible to the public. He added: "HSENI completed its investigation into this incident and subsequently passed a file to the PPS."
It comes as the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust was ordered to pay out more than £11,000 of public money for three breaches of health and safety at its City Hospital site.
It was fined £10,000 plus costs of £1,750 at Belfast Crown Court on Monday after two Newry construction workers were potentially exposed to asbestos when repairing a floor in January 2011.
It is the latest damning indictment of the safety of employees and patients in the trust – coming just weeks after the Belfast Telegraph revealed no work has been carried out to improve security at a health centre where a woman was stabbed more than 18 months ago.
Passing sentence in court on Monday, Judge Kinney branded the incident at Belfast City Hospital "a serious failure of management oversight and responsibility".
During an earlier hearing, the court was told construction workers became concerned after making repairs to the ceiling of a storeroom.
HSENI inspectors were informed and carried out an investigation which confirmed the ceiling was made of asbestos insulation board – a material commonly used in the construction of many buildings before its use was prohibited in 1999.
While the trust had carried out asbestos surveys of its buildings and the estates building was known to contain asbestos, this information was not passed on to its maintenance contractors.
In addition, staff in key roles within the trust were not trained in managing asbestos and did not have a sufficient grasp of how the risks should be managed.
HSENI investigating inspector Hugh Moss said: "This case highlights the importance of not only having accurate and up-to-date asbestos surveys carried out, but also ensuring that this information is given to anyone who carries out work on premises which are known to contain asbestos. There is no such thing as a safe level of asbestos and cases like this should serve to remind tradesmen and those involved in maintenance activities that asbestos remains a significant danger to health."
A spokeswoman from the trust said: "Like many organisations, we have to actively manage the asbestos that was used in the construction of older buildings.
"We have considerable expertise in this and it is unfortunate that on this occasion our arrangements broke down.
"This was a localised incident and in no way put patients or the public at risk. We will remain focused on managing all health and safety risks in our estates."
She added that the trust regrets the incident and fully accepts the fine issued by the court.
If undisturbed, asbestos does not present a health risk, but if materials containing it are chipped, broken or deteriorate, they release a fine dust containing asbestos fibres. If someone breathes in dust, the asbestos fibres enter the lungs and can cause disease. Mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by asbestos, can occur after exposure.