Contractor cops fine after asbestos blunder on kitchen job

A building contractor has been fined for ignoring asbestos safety rules after the potentially deadly material was discovered in a girl’s school where it was in charge of a kitchen and dining area refurbishment project.

Surrey-based Buxton Building Contractors, which was carrying out work at the Woldingham girls’ school in Caterham, 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.

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The Health and Safety Executive yesterday brought a successful prosecution against Buxton for safety breaches after investigating the 2011 incident.

Guildford Crown Court heard that Buxton Building Contractors 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.

HSE’s investigation found the survey had highlighted the presence of the hazardous material, however Buxton Building Contractors had 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 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.

The HSE did not state if Buxton had appointed a kitchen house to manage the kitchen build at the time of the incident.

Buxton was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £26,217 after admitting a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to plan, manage and properly monitor the construction work at the school.

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.”

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