Private school pupils exposed to hazardous asbestos

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Pupils at a top private school in Dorset were left exposed to the dangers of asbestos fibres after the unsafe removal of asbestos insulation boards.  Details of the case were heard in a hearing held in the Dorset town of Dorchester at the Crown Court on 13th July.

Both the school, Sherborne School and the Director of the Contractors responsible for the work, Peter Eldridge were prosecuted were prosecuted by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  An investigation in to the work found that there had been a failure to prevent the risk of exposure to the asbestos and that they had failed to identify that asbestos was present during their work on the site.

The contractors removed asbestos insulation boards in a dangerous and unsafe way, exposing individuals including contractors and a teenager on work experience to the danger of inhaling asbestos fibres.  Asbestos fibres are known to increase the risk of developing serious and potentially fatal diseases later in life.

The HSE investigation stated that from as early as the initial stages in May 2008, continuing through to the undertaking of the remedial work in July 2009, that there had been inadequate planning and a complete failure to carry out a full and necessary asbestos survey to identify any potential dangers.

What makes the failure of the contractor or school to take proper precautions and manage safety properly even more shocking is that it was known that asbestos was on the site.  Indeed, a sample taken from materials within one of the school buildings in 2008 had identified asbestos and it was known that the dangerous material had previously been removed from other parts of the school site. An asbestos register was also kept for the school buildings.

The court heard that neither the Director of the contractor Mr Eldridge nor the Sherborne School had taken the appropriate safety precautions.  Neither had appointed a Construction Design and Management (CDM) coordinator, despite it being a requirement of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for projects of the size of this.

If steps had been taken to appoint such a coordinator, it would have enabled the prevention of this matter as it would have ensured a full refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey was completed in advance of construction work. Licensed asbestos contractors could then have been appointed to safely remove it.

The School was found guilty of breaching Regulation 4(8) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and Regulation 14 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The school was fined a total of £60,000 and ordered to pay £13,000 in costs.

Peter Eldridge, of Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset, was found guilty of breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act for his neglect as an individual director. He was also found guilty of breaching Regulations 11(3) and 18(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for contributing to the failings of his company. He was fined a total of £10,000 with costs of £6,000.

Exposure to asbestos fibres is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK; it is responsible for around 4,000 deaths a year. For more information on asbestos, visit www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.

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