In 2016 Magistrates have fined a facilities management (FM) company £20,000 for failures that led to the disturbance of asbestos fibres at a primary school. The fine is the maximum that is available to magistrates for a breach of health and safety regulations, including those covering construction work.
The prosecution is the latest reminder of longstanding concerns about the presence of asbestos in schools. In October 2015, for example, an all-party group of MPs called for the eradication of asbestos from educational establishments and public buildings by 2018 (see Tetra news, 30 October 2015). The MPs’ report noted that asbestos is present at three in four schools in the UK and doubted the practicality of the HSE’s reliance on the notion that asbestos can be left undisturbed for decades in buildings that are in constant use.
Project management failures
The incident occurred on 6 November 2014 during roof refurbishment at Lings Primary School in Northampton. During the work, the contractor, Amey Communities Ltd, disturbed asbestos insulation board (AIB) in a small plant room.
The subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found failings in Amey Communities Ltd’s project management arrangements. In particular, it had failed to monitor and identify asbestos containing materials (ACMs) during the refurbishment work and ensure that key personnel had suitable asbestos awareness training.
Sam Russell, an HSE inspector involved in the investigation, said that all maintenance or construction work undertaken in buildings built before 2000 must consider and manage the risk of possible ACMs. Such materials, he emphasised, must be “considered at every stage of a construction project and failure to do so places workers, buildings occupants and the public at risk to possible exposure to asbestos fibres”.
The Oxford based Amey Communities Ltd, which is part of the Amey Group was sentenced on 9 February 2016 at Northampton Magistrates’ Court after it admitted a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company accepted that, as a contractor, it had failed to plan, manage and monitor construction work under its control so as to ensure that it was carried out without risks to health and safety. The magistrates also order the company to pay prosecution costs of £1,737.