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School and glass contractor fined for asbestos failings

15 November 2013

A Birmingham academy and a glass company have been fined for failing to properly manage refurbishment works and exposing workers to asbestos.

Equitas Academies Trust, the owner and operator of Aston Manor Academy, and Birmingham Glass Services Ltd were jointly prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found they put employees at unnecessary risk in the incident on 6 June 2012.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard on the 14th November that Equitas Academies Trust undertook a project in the spring and summer of 2012 to replace old windows at the academy. The school appointed Birmingham Glass Services Ltd (BGS) to do the work, having previously used the company for other projects.

The court was told that four BGS workers attended the site, but did not receive an induction by any employee of Equitas Academies Trust. Nor was any information provided to the glass company’s employees on the location of any asbestos containing materials. The school’s site manager told the BGS employees that ‘to the best of his knowledge’ there was no asbestos containing materials in the window area.

While removing the windows, two of the BGS employees encountered strips of asbestos insulating board (AIB) packers, which prevented them from installing the new windows. The packers were removed from the frame using a crowbar, then snapped and dumped next to an asbestos decontamination unit on the school site that was being used for unrelated work by licensed asbestos removal contractors.

HSE found that along with not receiving information on where asbestos could be found in the building, these two employees had not received asbestos awareness training; and had not been provided with any form of personal protective equipment, such as face masks or protective clothing. They were therefore exposed to loose asbestos fibres while removing the asbestos packers and breaking them into pieces.

Magistrates also heard there were no emergency procedures in place for the employees if asbestos was disturbed.

The incident cost the school £20,000 through decontamination and replacement of floor coverings. Soft furnishings and children’s work had to be disposed of and parts of the school could not be used for the second part of the summer term.

Birmingham Glass Services Ltd, of Lightning Way, West Heath, Birmingham, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,969 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Equitas Academies Trust, of Phillips Street, Aston, Birmingham, was fined £7,500 with £3,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing HSE inspector Paul Thompson said:

"This incident would have been avoided had the academy put procedures in place to ensure that relevant parties understood their duties around minimising the risk of asbestos exposure inside the school.

"Although the school had not been under local authority control since 2011, it failed to ensure employees and management received adequate training to make up for the loss of local authority support and ensure that a suitable asbestos management plan was in place.

"By not providing asbestos awareness training to their operatives and not taking steps to ensure that they had information on where asbestos was in the premises before works commenced, Birmingham Glass Services Ltd failed in their duty to protect their employees and members of the public from potential exposure to asbestos.

"Workers exposed to asbestos could have posed a health risk to others in the long term, even their families and loved ones, by taking home their contaminated clothing.

"Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Building owners and contractors have a duty to ensure they protect their workers from risk of exposure. Equitas Academies Trust and Birmingham Glass Services Ltd failed to do so.”

Information and advice about working safely with asbestos can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos