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Hotel fined for exposing diners to Asbestos!

Diners at a Folkestone hotel have been exposed to the risk of inhaling asbestos dust during refurbishment work. This happened during a conversion of one of the wings of the Britannia Grand Burstin, in The Harbour, between February and July in 2010. While the work on the hotel’s Pavilion Wing was being carried out, the hotel’s restaurant remained open, despite bosses knowing that potentially lethal asbestos was present.

Now Britannia Hotels, which owns 35 hotels in the UK, has been fined £160,000 after admitting breaching safety regulations designed to minimise the risk of people being exposed to inhaling asbestos dust. A judge at Canterbury Crown Court criticised the company for breaking with its usual procedure of using specialist firms to get rid of the asbestos. Instead, it used its in-house staff who were inexperienced and none of them had even been given specialist training to recognise the threat. Judge Simon James was told that before the work was started, the company had ordered a report that indicated the possibility of asbestos in the structure.

But Britannia failed to ask for a more detailed investigation into the risks before ordering work to start on building 53 new bedrooms.

It was only weeks later that asbestos was discovered and experts brought in to deal with the hazard – by which time workers and diners had been exposed to a possible risk of inhaling asbestos particles.

Mark Balysz, for the Health and Safety Executive, told the court: “This prosecution flows from an investigation and possible exposure of asbestos to members of the public and this hotel.”Throughout the construction works, the restaurant, which was on the ground floor, remained in use and therefore the lobby area was shared by guests and construction workers.”

He said that asbestos-related illnesses in 2010 topped 2,300 cases – “and were almost always fatal”.

“Breathing in asbestos dust can cause serious damage to the lungs and cause cancer,” he added. “There is no known cure for asbestos-related diseases. The more dust that is inhaled the greater the risk.” Mr Balsyz added: “If you are to carry out work in a building and that work is one of refurbishment then it is not good enough just to look at the exterior of the building and a full asbestos survey should be carried out.”

The court heard Britannia’s internal company, Hotel Management Services, carried out the conversion of the former management offices and storage rooms.

Its then national contracts manager, Keith Gawthorpe, later revealed that when he joined the company in 2003 “regular health and safety training including asbestos awareness training” was carried out. Mr Balysz added: “However, he said that over time there had been a lapse in the provision of such training.” The 22-strong workforce, including six labourers, 15 joiners and a construction site manager – included some who had not been given any appropriate training. Work began on February 8 when walls were knocked down, old floors stripped out and in April the workers began putting in a new lift shaft. In June, part of a wall in a room was removed and the room was sealed when concerns were raised it might contain asbestos.

Mr Balysz said because of the nature of asbestos-related illnesses, it was impossible to say whether or not anyone had been affected.

“But a state of affairs existed where whether or not anyone was exposed to asbestos dust was just a matter of pure chance.” Judge James said that people were using the restaurant while work was being done below it and in the two floors immediately above. He said: “This work was commissioned in the knowledge that a survey had identified asbestos and the company had before commencement of this work. The risks posed by asbestos are well known with its potentially fatal consequences of even a limited amount of exposure was well known in the construction industry for some considerable time.”

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