An asbestos removal company has been fined £15,000 after it failed to meet safe working standards “by a considerable margin”, Antrim Crown Court has heard.
Imposing fines on Cullen Asbestos Ltd, Judge Patrick Kinney said despite the preparation of an asbestos management plan and method statement, “there was no system of checking that appropriate precautions were being taken”.
He added: “An asbestos survey or method statement are of little value if the staff are not properly trained in asbestos awareness and the process and procedures clearly explained to them and then enforced. I’m satisfied that the company failed to meet an appropriate standard by a considerable margin.”
Following a trial earlier this year, Cullen Asbestos Ltd, based on the Rock Road in Stoneyford, Co Antrim, was convicted by a jury of three offences under health and safety at work legislation, including failing to ensure, as far as practicable, the health and safety of employees at work, prevention of exposure to asbestos and preventing the spread of asbestos.
Summing the case up during his sentencing remarks, Judge Kinney outlined how the firm was engaged in removing large ceiling tiles from an industrial premises on Orby Drive in east Belfast in April 2014.
These tiles contained white asbestos but would only release potentially dangerous fibres into the air when disturbed so “logically, the greater the disturbance the greater the risk to health”.
Two members of staff on site were “standing on step ladders, using hammers to pull down and break the tiles”, with the broken tiles then left “in various locations” in open, untied bags or bags that “were torn with asbestos material clearly visible”.
“There was loose material and debris on the floor, on top of the bags and surfaces,” said the judge, when they should have been put into an “appropriate covered receptacle to prevent further spread”.
He also informed the court of other breaches including failures to properly protect or cover exposed surfaces such as floors with sheeting, lack of an amended method statement, evidence of a lack of staff training and lack of an appropriate skip in which to deposit the asbestos.
Describing the company as a “small undertaking”, Judge Kinney said the
offences were aggravated because “the breaches went to the top of the structure… there was not prompt acceptance of liability and limited cooperation with the Health and Safety Executive”.
Imposing fines amounting to £15,000, the judge said they should “reflect punishment and deterrence and the removal of gain through the commission of an offence - it should not be cheaper to offend than to take appropriate precautions”.