£120,000 Penalty for Asbestosis Risk
A firm has been fined £120,000 after exposing its workers and the public to the risk of contamination with deadly asbestosis while demolishing the former Wills tobacco factory in Hartcliffe.
It was the largest ever fine in Britain imposed on a company for breaching health and safety asbestos regulations.
Bristol Crown court heard that residents in the Hartcliffe area may have been exposed to toxic particles when asbestos was being removed from the factory. Contractors Reach Environment pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching Health and Safety rules at an earlier hearing.
The company admitted that its operation was in a “shambles” when safety inspectors visited the factory in February.
They found the area had not been sealed off properly with the dangerous material dripping down walls and on floors. It had been warned to put its house in order at inspections a month earlier but failed to act, the court heard.
Former Reach Environmental director James Mackintosh – described in court as a “rogue individual” – was blamed for the problems.
The court heard he was a 60-year-old nearing the end of his career and was trying to complete the project on a “shoestring” but with “no grasp of what was needed”.
Mr. Mackintosh, the site manager and foreman were sacked when the risks were exposed.
Residents in Whitland Road and Whitchurch Lane, Hartcliffe, who live directly opposite the site, were horrified to hear that Reach Environmental had allowed asbestos to seep out of the area.
Bernard Chaplin, who used to work with asbestos sheeting, and is well aware of the health risks, said: “I’d not heard anything about the Wills site, only that it was being pulled down.”
Tina Foord, the mother of three young daughters, Adele, Tiffany and Lauren, said: “I hadn’t heard a thing about it and if I had, I’d have kept my windows shut more often…”
Asbestosis is the most dangerous cancer-causing carcinogen and inhaling dust particles can have lethal consequences, including causing lung cancers. But the disease can take up to 40 years to manifest itself and there is no smell or taste associated with asbestos so it is virtually impossible to detect.
Health and Safety inspectors feared the risk of exposure would have been far greater had they not acted swiftly. They discovered wet asbestos was running towards the public drain system, but they blocked the leak in time.
John Livesey, defending, said that no dry asbestos left the site and that the company “bent over backwards” to remedy the problems after inspection.
Judge Mr. Recorder Nicholas Atkinson, QC, said the fine would have been much higher had the company not introduced new safer working procedures.
“The dreadful consequences of being exposed to asbestos will not be revealed for many years to come,” said the judge.
A spokesman for Reach Environmental of Staffordshire, which was also ordered to pay £7,000 costs, would only say after the case that he was “surprised” by the size of the fine.
“Bristol Evening Post”
Humphreys & Co. are pleased to support the North Bristol NHS Trust Mesothelioma Research Fund