Gas engineer prosecuted for unsafe asbestos removal

A contractor in Barnstaple has been prosecuted after he carelessly removed potentially dangerous asbestos material during a gas boiler replacement - putting himself and others at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.

The man, an experienced gas engineer, was removing an old warm air heating system which was surrounded by asbestos insulation board. Although he should have realised there may be a high chance of a 30 year old gas boiler being insulated with asbestos board he made no checks before working around the material.

Matters were compounded when he also ignored concerns raised by the tenants about the disturbed material, which he carried on bagging before removing it and storing it at his yard.

The tenants were so concerned that they contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which decided to prosecute the man.

During the hearing at Barnstaple Magistrates' court it was revealed that the man had not used any safety measures to prevent the spread of asbestos, nor had he used protective clothing or breathing apparatus when removing the insulation board.

The man pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which states:

General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees

"It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

He was fined £450 and ordered to pay £921.40 in costs.

After the trial an HSE inspector said that the man's negligence could result in serious health effects to both him and anyone else who may have come into contact with the asbestos material he disturbed.

Asbestos safety

The use of asbestos in construction was not completely banned until November 1999, therefore any building constructed or refurbished before this date may contain asbestos materials and tradesmen should always be aware of this.

Enquiries should be made about the potential presence of asbestos and its whereabouts before starting any work. If this is not known and asbestos is found during the work, it should stop immediately. The material must be confirmed and its removal by trained asbestos handlers arranged.

Asbestos Risks

A class 1 carcinogen, asbestos poses serious health risks to anyone exposed to it. Several campaigns have been run by the HSE to raise asbestos awareness and contractors are urged to consider that it may be present at every stage of a construction project.

The impact -- Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma (or "Meso") is a rare cancer that forms on the protective lining of certain parts of the body, most commonly the lungs or abdomen. It is usually a result of inhaling asbestos fibres and can develop even after exposure to relatively low levels or where the exposure took place over a relatively short period of time.

15 to 40 years may elapse after exposure to asbestos before mesothelioma develops, with some people showing no symptoms at all in the early stages.

Anyone exposed to asbestos should visit a doctor for medical advice. Any damage caused by asbestos may be possible to detect with a scan or x-ray.

Making an asbestos claim

If you have been affected by asbestos and would like to discuss the possibility of making an asbestos compensation claim, call us on 0800 612 7456.