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London Council fined £66,000 for exposing its employees and contractors to asbestos


Waltham Forest Borough’s Council has been fined £66,000 for knowingly exposing its employees and contractors to asbestos in the Town Hall basement for more than a decade.

Way back in 2002, Waltham Forest Borough’s Council commissioned a survey of a building in whose basement asbestos was stored.
As we all know in 1999, Deputy Prime Minister Prescott, signed the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations Act, which came into force on the 24th of November 1999 – five years ahead of the European deadline. Although all types of asbestos had been banned, chrysotile was the exception, since amosite and crocidolite were already banned in 1985.
Although asbestos was identified as stored in the basement of this building, the Council made no effort to introduce any form of control. All those who worked in the basement, including the print room staff, were exposed to asbestos.
It was only in mid-2012, when a local resident was requested to look into some election related expenses, when the Council came up with its reply stating that the paperwork could not be handed over since it was contaminated with asbestos.
The residents then took up the matter with HSE’s myth buster panel, which, in turn, referred it to the inspectors in North East London.
During the course of their inspection, the inspectors found that the Council had in fact commissioned a second survey in January 2012, which had identified asbestos lying in the basement, as well as in the boiler room and in other areas. The survey commissioned by the council in January made it abundantly clear that the asbestos that was found lying around in the basement was the same asbestos they had found a decade back and no action had been taken to deal with it.
Although the Council had a system in place for inspecting the presence of asbestos, they however did not have any plan for managing its disposal. The HSE’s inspectors then served an improvement notice which ensured that the council had a system to properly management the disposal of asbestos.
On the 30th of March, Westminster magistrates fined Waltham Forest Borough Council £66,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £16,862 after it pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1)  and 3(1)  of the Health and Safety at Work Act and Regulation 4(8)  of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
Had the council not pleaded guilty the fine would have been £100,000 said the judge. The size of the fine also reflects the funding cuts the council was facing.
“Waltham Forest was aware of the asbestos in the basement as far back as 1984. It was also aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks. However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade. Over that period, an unquantifiable number of its own employees plus workers from maintenance companies and similar were regularly exposed to these hazards,” said Chris Tilley, HSE inspector.
He went on to add, “Asbestos-related disease has a long latency and it is impossible to ascertain what injury may have been caused in this case.”