A London borough has been ordered to pay more than £80,0000 in fines and costs after exposing staff and contractors to asbestos in the basement of its town hall.
The asbestos had been identified in a survey commissioned by Waltham Forest Council in 2002.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, the local authority then failed to take adequate action to act on the findings and put effective controls in place.
The issue only arose by chance when a local resident put in a request in 2012 to see certain election expenses documentation.
Waltham Forest refused the request on the basis that the relevant paperwork was contaminated with asbestos.
The requester approached the HSE’s ‘Mythbuster Challenge Panel’, which in turn referred its concerns to the watchdog’s inspectors in north east London to investigate further.
The investigators found that Waltham Forest had had a second asbestos survey carried out in January 2012.
This survey had identified problems of asbestos in the boiler room and other areas of the basement. It also highlighted that areas identified in the 2002 survey had not been remedied.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told that Waltham Forest had no plan in place for managing the risks of asbestos and there was an inadequate system in place for inspecting asbestos at the town hall.
The HSE served an Improvement Notice on the council requiring it to put in place a proper management plan dealing with the presence of asbestos.
The watchdog’s inspectors also interviewed a number of employees and contractors who had used the basement over the years, including print-room staff who were based down there.
The council subsequently pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
It was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs.
HSE inspector Chris Tilley said: “Waltham Forest was aware of the asbestos in the basement as far back as 1984. It was also aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks.
“However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade. Over that period, an unquantifiable number of its own employees plus workers from maintenance companies and similar were regularly exposed to these hazards.”
Tilley added: “Asbestos-related disease has a long latency and it is impossible to ascertain what injury may have been caused in this case. But asbestos is a known and powerful carcinogen and owners or managers of non-domestic premises, such as councils, have a legal duty to manage the material in their buildings and have measures and controls in place to protect workers and the public from being exposed.”