An academy trust in Essex has recently been prosecuted and found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – Section 2 (1) & 3 (1). The prosecution was brought after the Health and Safety Executive investigated the trust following poorly planned and managed refurbishment and maintenance works.
The trust had decided to convert an old boiler room at the school into a cleaning store. However it did not follow the correct procedure to identify any asbestos containing materials, their location and condition within the fabric of the school. As a consequence it did not implement suitable precautions to prevent disturbance of asbestos. Nor did it ensure that the relevant information was shared with anyone liable to disturb this fabric. It did not arrange for a licensed asbestos contractor to remove any dangerous asbestos safely before commencement of any work.
As a result of this negligence, asbestos residue was disturbed and caretakers swept contaminated debris from the floors. This has resulted in school staff and others being exposed to asbestos containing materials. This exposure only came to light after a later asbestos survey was completed in the area.
The trust, which pleaded guilty to the charges brought, has been fined £26,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.
This prosecution provides a timely reminder to those responsible for repairs and maintenance and management of school premises of the need to ensure that the necessary procedures are followed. This is not just for asbestos, where a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk should be carried out and correct control measures put in place to ensure that exposure to asbestos is prevented so far as is reasonably practicable, but also for other areas of building compliance. This includes:
Managing a building is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. There is a real risk that lack of knowledge and experience can put lives at risk with those responsible facing prosecution or, worse, a prison term.