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Firm fined £150k for exposing workers to asbestos in Lincoln

An asbestos removal company has been fined more than £150,000 after it exposed workers to dangerous fibres during the demolition of a former school building in Lincoln.

Angus Group Ltd, based in Paisley, Scotland, was found guilty at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court on May 27 of eight breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, and was fined £109,000 and ordered to pay a further £42,100 in costs.

Magistrates heard that Angus Group Ltd did not properly manage the removal of asbestos-containing materials at the site of the former Ermine Infants’ School on Thoresway Drive in Lincoln during March 2012.

Angus Group Ltd were sub-contracted to carry out the asbestos removal work on behalf of the contractors demolishing the school, owned by Lincolnshire County Council. The site was being demolished after the school buildings were replaced by a new school.

Before work began, an asbestos survey was carried out to identify the areas in the building containing asbestos, and recommending how this was to be treated to ensure safe removal.

The survey found the end walls of the school’s main hall were covered in a spray-applied coating of asbestos, and should therefore be removed by a licensed contractor under safe, controlled conditions.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigations found these recommendations were ignored by Angus Group Ltd. The asbestos spray coating on the main hall walls was chiseled off using power tools without any screens, enclosures or air extraction systems in place. Asbestos-containing material was bagged and carried to a skip outside.

Angus Group Ltd notified the main contractors that the asbestos removal work on the main hall was finished, but when the project agents and main contractors visited the next day, they found the hall covered in dust and patches of asbestos material still on the wall.

HSE discovered a catalogue of safety breaches at the site during their investigation. The exact location of asbestos material wasn’t identified, and the work only took one day to complete rather than the planned seven.

Risk assessments were too generic; enclosures, segregation and containment measures were inadequate; plans lacked detail; access and transit routes through the buildings weren’t clear; employees lacked specific instruction, and there was no reference to the original asbestos survey in the plan.

HSE experts concluded the company’s safeguards to control the asbestos risks were seriously inadequate leading to an unnecessary release and spread of dangerous asbestos fibres and dust.

The plan and risk assessment for the asbestos removal work in the building’s boiler room were also found to be confused and a decontamination unit was not powered. HSE served a prohibition notice to halt the work on the boiler room until the unit was properly powered and working.

Fifteen of the 17 samples taken in and around the hall proved positive for asbestos. A later analysis, which included other parts of the building, found asbestos fibres in 15 of 34 samples, indicating asbestos had spread throughout the building.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Martin Giles said: “Angus Group Ltd is an experienced licensed contractor, and was fully aware of all the hazards and all its responsibilities to ensure safety at all times.

“It is deplorable a company that does know better failed to properly manage the dangers of this hidden killer.”