Two companies and a contractor have been prosecuted for releasing asbestos fibres during an office refurbishment project in Birmingham city centre. This story highlights the need for sound advice as from experienced and competent CDM Coordinators.
The building – at 114-116 Colmore Row – was owned by Evanacre Colmore Row Ltd which together with project managers Marchment Consulting, hired builder Roland Morewood to carry out work in January 2010.
The work involved upgrading a lift, An asbestos survey held by Evanacre showed that the area contained asbestos insulating board. In spite of this the firms hired an unlicensed contractor, Roland Morewood to remove it in return for a significantly lower fee than a licensed contractor would have charged.
When independent lift engineers arrived at the site they found pieces of asbestos insulating board spread around the lift shaft area and rightly refused to carry on working. The HSE was informed and its inspectors subsequently discovered that asbestos fibres had spread to several parts of the building.
Air tests taken on several floors of the premises – a building which was operational and occupied throughout the refurbishment – revealed significantly high levels of asbestos fibres.
Further investigation revealed the presence of asbestos in several vacuum cleaners used around the building. Following this discovery HSE stopped all workers from going into the building until it had been decontaminated.
Asbestos insulating board was also found stored in Roland Morewood’s van, which itself was heavily contaminated.
HSE principal inspector Richard Lockwood commented:
“Asbestos is the biggest cause of occupational deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4000 people dying every year from related diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
“Evanacre Colmore Row had an asbestos survey, which clearly showed that asbestos was present in the lift. Marchment Consulting, which has expertise in building work, should have known how to deal with asbestos and materials containing its fibres in refurbishment projects.
“These companies decided not to use a licensed contractor to remove the asbestos insulating board but to get the work done over a weekend by an unlicensed contractor for a tenth of the cost. Asbestos fibres were found to be at significant levels and, if the alarm had not been raised, it is likely that people working on the refurbishment and office workers would have been breathing these fibres for some time.”
Evanacre Colmore Row Ltd and Marchment Consulting Ltd both pleaded guilty before Birmingham magistrates on 9 August to breaching regs.11(1)(a) and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. Each was fined £7000 and ordered to pay £1500 costs.
Roland Morewood, of Mapleton Road, Hall Green, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to breaching regs.8(1) and 16 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. He was fined £1000 and ordered to pay £823 costs.
Both companies cooperated fully with the HSE investigation and Evanacre paid £85,000 for the clean-up operation following the contamination. They also said it had been a mistake to use an unlicensed contractor as they believed the lift contained asbestos cement, rather than insulating board – even though the asbestos survey made clear it was the latter. It is worthy of note that Roland Morewood was told it was asbestos cement and was not shown the survey. However, the companies also provided information to the HSE to enable it to track down Morewood’s van, which had been abandoned by the builder – with the keys inside – in a Birmingham side street. The HSE hired a local licensed asbestos contractor to decontaminate it.
Inspector Lockwood emphasised:
“It is against the law for anyone to remove asbestos insulating board without a licence. Roland Morewood should never have carried out the work and did not take enough precautions to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres.”