Asbestos failings lead to fines for school trusts

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Background

A fine of £18,000 has been imposed on a charitable trust after safety failings were uncovered at the refurbishment of a school in Rochester, Kent. The court also ordered the trust to pay £17,000 in costs. As part of its investigation, the Health and Safety Executive found that work had been allowed to continue at the site after asbestos had been disturbed. The subcontractor working at the site was fined £9,000 for his part in the incident.

Unsafe practice

The HSE found that the Williamson Trust had failed to complete a refurbishment and demolition survey and had failed to check the asbestos register – a legal requirement. They were also accused of failing to ensure that the contractors had the asbestos information that they required to complete the work. The Trust pleaded guilty to a breach of section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which provides that employers have a duty to conduct their business in such a way as to protect the health and safety of those not employed but who may nevertheless be affected by the employer’s actions.

Risk of harm

The court heard that the risk of harm in the case was low, and that the work had been carried out at The Hundred of Hoo academy in the school holidays. However, the judgment will act as a warning to schools and other public bodies of the importance of ensuring health and safety standards are maintained and is a sign of the willingness of the HSE to act on breaches of legislation where there is a failure to manage risk.

Conclusion

The case is an important warning of the risks of breaching health and safety legislation, and is especially timely given that from 1 February 2016, new guidelines from the Sentencing Council on Health and Safety offences come into effect. As a key objective of the new guidelines is to make sentencing a deterrent for other would-be offenders, the imposition of even larger fines on institutions is likely to become the norm.

For more information, help or advice in this area please contact Tony McPhillips on 0191 211 7908 or via [email protected].