Construction workers at a hostel in the Northern Quarter of Manchester were confronted with a ‘minefield’ of asbestos risk, PAC Asbestos Surveys has learned.
A fine and court fees costing over £44,000 have hit the directors of Hatters Hostel Ltd, the company who own Hatters Hostel on Newton Street, Manchester.
Manchester Crown Court heard that workers at the hostel could have been exposed to the very harmful substance – which is a cause of cancer in later life – after the owners failed to commission an asbestos survey before they began the refurbishment of their basement in the 19thcentury building.
A random health and safety inspection of the site discovered the health and safety breach at the former bowler hat factory. The owners had planned to turn the basement into a tavern for its guests.
At that point in time, work had been underway for over eight months and had involved construction workers from six different firms.
It isn’t known whether any of the workers on the site were exposed to the asbestos in the building.
Asbestos was found on 20sq m section of the basement that had yet to be stripped out, in the form of fire retardant textured paint. It is not known if this was present on other walls in the basement as they had already been stripped at this point. If construction workers had disturbed the paint, it would have put them at risk of contracting lethal cancerous diseases.
While opening the case against the hostel at Manchester Crown Court, prosecutor Joseph Hart said, “The workers working on that basement are sent into an environment where there are potential areas of asbestos, just as a soldier is sent into a minefield without a map.
“The survey would have provided a map as to where there is asbestos. It’s such an obvious duty to have one when the risks of asbestos are so plainly known within the industry. It’s a critical failing – it’s a 19th Century building, almost inevitably there was going to be some asbestos. We don’t know how many workers were exposed, it could have been two people who stripped out the whole of the basement over the course of a year, or more likely a large number of people in a short period of time.”
During sentencing, Judge Jinder Singh Boora said there wasn’t any evidence “a large number of workers” were exposed to asbestos or that any members of the public were exposed either, he also added that the hostel’s health and safety record was otherwise “impeccable”.
He added: “It’s absolutely essential for companies to perform risk assessments. What’s even more important is if the risk assessment relates to risk which, if it manifests, will lead to either serious injury or death. Asbestos is a killer. If one contracts asbestosis or mesothelioma, death is almost inevitable.”
HSE inspector Matt Greenly said after the case: “The requirement to have a suitable asbestos survey is clear and well known throughout the construction industry. Only by knowing if asbestos is present in any building before works commence can a contractor ensure that people working on their site are not exposed to these deadly fibres.
“The cost of an asbestos survey is not great but the legacy facing anyone who worked on this site is immeasurable. They now have to live with the realisation that due to the lack of care taken by Hatters Hostel Limited and Hatters Taverns Limited they may face a life-shortening disease at some point over the next 30+ years from an exposure which was totally preventable. This case sends a clear message to any company that it does not pay to ignore well-known risks on site.”
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