Belfast Telegraph

Housing Executive loses legal battle over asbestos tests

By Alan Erwin

Northern Ireland's Housing Executive today lost a legal battle over asbestos tests to be carried out in thousands of its properties.

Senior judges ruled that the authority imposed a greater sampling obligation on a risk management company contracted to survey homes in Belfast and the north east.

Healthy Buildings (Ireland) Ltd won a £1 million tender in 2012 to check for the presence of asbestos in the properties.

Under Health and Safety Guidance the firm planned to use a method of testing which presumed the presence of asbestos.

But it launched legal action after being told in early 2013 that the main type of survey required would involve sampling every room in houses.

Healthy Buildings argued that the Housing Executive had issued an instruction which changed the scope of the contract.

It claimed this would lead to a major increase in its workload, taking twice as many staff double the time to complete.

Following the sampling presumption method one worker could survey up to a dozen premises a day, the company argued.

But under the new instructions it said two workers would be needed to get through six or seven homes daily.

During an adjudication hearing the Housing Executive stated that it preferred the sampling method because presumptions had a negative commercial effect.

The costs paid in maintenance contracts through being unnecessarily required to remove material which may or may not be asbestos was also cited.

With the adjudicator and then a High Court judge having both ruled for Healthy Buildings, the Housing Executive took its case to the Court of Appeal.

But in a judgment today, Lord Justice Girvan held that instructions were given which imposed a greater sampling obligation on the company than envisaged under the relevant Health and Safety Guidance.

Dismissing the appal, he said: "Inevitably this must result in the admitted instruction being considered to be an instruction which changed the scope of the works."

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