A North East hospital trust has been fined after contractors were unwittingly exposed to asbestos fibres at Sunderland Eye Infirmary.
Sunderland Magistrates ‘ Court heard today that over the weekend of 24/25 March 2012, contractors at the infirmary on Queen Alexandra Road drilled through door surrounds on a ward to install cables.
The following day concerns regarding the work were raised by a member of Trust staff and it was confirmed that the door surrounds were made of asbestos insulating board.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust had an asbestos survey that clearly showed there was asbestos in the door surrounds but, despite several site meetings between the Trust and the contractors, no information on the location or condition of any asbestos was given to the contractors.
The court heard that asbestos insulating board does not pose a risk to health unless it is damaged or worked on, when asbestos fibres can be released. Drilling the board could cause fibres to be released into the air.
City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Kayll Road, Sunderland was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £4,582.40 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 (9)(c)(i) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Shuna Rank, said:
“This incident was entirely preventable and highlights the importance of having a robust asbestos management system in place. City Hospitals Sunderland had put considerable resources into identifying where asbestos was in the hospital buildings but failed to have efficient procedures in place to ensure the information was passed to the contractors.
“As a result workers drilled through the asbestos-containing material, potentially exposing themselves, hospital staff and members of the public to dangerous fibres.
“There need to be systems in place to ensure that all workers are aware of where asbestos is if their work is likely to bring them into contact with asbestos-containing materials.”
Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. It is responsible for more than 4,500 deaths each year. Asbestos is still present in many buildings and any work likely to disturb the asbestos needs to be positively managed to prevent exposure.
For advice on working with asbestos visit www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos.