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Girls’ school – Asbestos threat ignored

A contractor has been fined £50,000 for ignoring asbestos safety rules after the potentially deadly material was discovered in a basement area at the independent Woldingham girls’ school in Caterham.Buxton Building Contractors Ltd had commissioned a specialist survey to identify the presence of asbestos in the undercroft part of the building – but then failed to act when the results were positive. The firm allowed a number of different contractors, including a teenage apprentice, to work in the area until one worker raised the alarm himself when he broke through the ceiling and exposed asbestos insulation boarding.

Guildford Crown Court heard that Buxton Building Contractors Ltd was the principal contractor for a scheme to remodel the school’s dining area and kitchen.

The firm had asked a surveyor to look specifically at the undercroft area as it had been omitted from an earlier asbestos report.

An HSE investigation found the survey had highlighted the presence of the hazardous material but Buxton failed to act either to deal with it or to provide any safeguards on site. It had allowed unrestricted access by a variety of other workers, including a 19-year-old apprentice electrician who had been working in the undercroft for at least two weeks. After the worker discovered the presence of the asbestos insulation board, the area was sealed off by a licensed asbestos contractor. Buxton Building Contractors Ltd, of Caterham, Surrey, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £26,217 after admitting a safety breach.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said: “This was a serious failing on the part of the company.

“Having correctly commissioned an asbestos survey, it looks as though no one at Buxton Contractors Ltd bothered to read it. Or if they did, they disregarded its contents and failed to act to protect site workers from exposure to what is one of the deadly killers in the construction industry.

“As a result, several people, including the young apprentice, were unnecessarily exposed to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres.  One can only wish and hope that there are no serious consequences for these workers in the future.”

RB Asbestos Consultants provide asbestos surveys throughout the UK.