Firms face asbestos fines
TWO companies are facing fines of more than £20,000 after pupils and staff at an Essex school were exposed to asbestos.As many as 700 children at the Stanway School in Colchester could have been affected when windows were replaced by workmen who did not realise the potentially deadly material was present.
TWO companies are facing fines of more than £20,000 after pupils and staff at an Essex school were exposed to asbestos.
As many as 700 children at the Stanway School in Colchester could have been affected when windows were replaced by workmen who did not realise the potentially deadly material was present.
Southend Magistrates Court was told yesterday how the brown asbestos was only flagged up by concerned teachers at the school in Winstree Road about a month after work began.
And after hearing the evidence, Deputy District judge Miss Beatrice Lebow decided her sentencing powers - a fine of up to £20,000 - were not enough, and committed the case to Basildon Crown Court.
Clivnars Ltd of Hoddesdon , Hertfordshire, the principal contractor, had pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers because they had not identified the presence of asbestos and also exposed pupils, teachers and other staff to the dangers.
EC Harris Human Resources, of London, the planning supervisors, had admitted a similar offence, relating to events between July 2000 and April 2001.
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Prosecuting, Geoff Knipe, said it should have been clear to workmen that the Rutherford Building, built in the 1960s, could potentially contain the dangerous substance.
He said both companies in question had failed to identify the asbestos insulation boards at the site - which were later damaged during work, sending asbestos fibres into the air.
He added: “It has just got to be managed safely and in a way that if it does become damaged, it is dealt with appropriately.
“It should be obvious to the companies that this was asbestos insulation. It should have been flagged up as a possibility to find out if there was asbestos and, if so, what asbestos.
“Precautionary steps should have been taken before work commenced. The asbestos was not identified and the replacement of windows was undertaken.”
Mr Knipe added debris from the window removal had fallen into classrooms and the building remained open to pupils as the work was carried out room by room.
Asbestos insulation boards were later found in a skip at the school, with the workmen employed at the highest risk from the materials.
“It is not clear as to the extent school pupils and teachers would have been exposed,” Mr Knipe added.
Mitigating for EC Harris Human Resources Ltd, Gerard Forlin , said: “This incident has been taken extremely seriously by the company I represent and I give our most sincere and deepest apologies.”
He reiterated the prosecution had found only a “negligible” risk to the pupils from the asbestos and claimed the company's actions were not reckless behaviour, but through ignorance.
Adam Budworth for Clivnars, also apologised on behalf of the company.
“We are saying, to a certain extent, that EC Harris have a lot to answer for. “Competent management by the planning supervisor would have led to the problem being identified well in advance,” he added.
Deputy district judge Miss Lebow said she was concerned about the length of time the work had gone on before someone at the school picked up on the problem, saying there had been a “series of howlers”.
She said her sentencing powers would be “inadequate” and committed the case to Basildon for a later date.
“Both defendants were careless in the extreme on this site and it is through luck, rather than judgement, that the risk to all concerned is considered as negligible,” she said.
No one from the school was available for comment yesterday.