Teenage apprentice exposed to asbestos at girls' boarding school

Published:  15 January, 2014

A building contractor has been fined for failing to properly dispose of asbestos after the potentially deadly material was discovered in a basement area at the independent Woldingham girls' school in Caterham.

Buxton Building Contractors Ltd, which was carrying out refurbishment work on the school’s dining area and kitchen in 2011, commissioned a specialist survey to identify the presence of asbestos in the undercroft part of the building, but failed to act when the results were positive.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) 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 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 High Street, Caterham, Surrey, 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.

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.

“It is vital that companies are fully aware of not just the duty to get an asbestos survey done, but then to act on its findings. There is considerable guidance freely available from HSE to assist duty-holders deal with asbestos materials properly.”