The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Sherborne School and Peter Eldridge, the director of a company responsible for the refurbishment project, after an investigation found they had failed to identify and prevent the risk of asbestos exposure at the school.
Asbestos insulation boards were removed in an unsafe way, exposing building contractors and a teenage work experience student to asbestos fibres, and leaving them at risk of developing serious and potentially fatal diseases later in life.
The HSE investigation found that from the initial design stages in May 2008 right through to undertaking the construction work in July 2009, there was inadequate planning and a failure to carry out a full asbestos survey.
This was despite the fact that a sample taken from the building in 2008 had identified its presence and asbestos had previously been removed from other parts of the school. An asbestos register was also kept for the school buildings.
The court heard that neither Mr Eldridge nor the school had appointed a Construction Design and Management (CDM) coordinator for the refurbishment project, despite it being a requirement of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for a project of this size.
The CDM coordinator would have ensured a full refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey was completed in advance of construction work. Licensed asbestos contractors could then have been appointed to safely remove it.
Sherborne School was found guilty of breaching Regulation 4(8) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and Regulation 14 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The school was fined a total of £60,000 and ordered to pay £13,000 in costs.
Peter Eldridge, of Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset, was found guilty of breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act for his neglect as an individual director. He was also found guilty of breaching Regulations 11(3) and 18(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for contributing to the failings of his company. He was fined a total of £10,000 with costs of £6,000.
Speaking after the prosecution, HSE Inspector Joanna Teasdale, said:
“Both Peter Eldridge and Sherborne School knew about the risks posed by the presence of asbestos in the school buildings, and yet they failed to manage the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres during the refurbishment project.
“As a result several people, including at least one teenager, were put at unnecessary risk. In being exposed to asbestos fibres they could develop a serious and potentially fatal illness.
“Although Sherborne School was the client, it still had a duty to manage the control of asbestos on its site, and to be aware of the requirements of removing asbestos safely.
“This incident and the risk to those involved could have been easily avoided if competent people had been engaged during the planning of the refurbishment project to advise the school, such as a CDM coordinator.”
Exposure to asbestos fibres is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK; it is responsible for around 4,000 deaths a year.