NHS Trust ordered to pay over £34,000 regarding asbestos exposure

Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust has been fined £16,000, and ordered to pay costs of more than £18,000 over failures relating to asbestos…

Executive summary

Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust (“the trust”) has been fined £16,000, and ordered to pay costs of more than £18,000 over failures relating to asbestos management during renovation works at The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (“the hospital”).

Background

In June 2012, contractors undertaking renovation works in accommodation at the hospital disturbed asbestos containing materials (“ACMs”) causing the release of asbestos. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) found that the trust, which runs the hospital, then failed to take adequate measures to deal with this release, which could have resulted in exposure of workers and contractors in the affected area of the hospital.

Some of the key failings found as part of the HSE’s investigations include:

  • ACMs were not properly recorded by the trust;
  • Although the trust had arrangements in place to manage asbestos, the overall management plan for dealing with asbestos was not recorded in a clear and concise manner or effectively communicated to its employees and contractors, in particular, those working on site. Accordingly, asbestos-related policies were not followed;
  • The trust had insufficient auditing procedures to ensure that the arrangements contained in the policy and management plan were fully implemented, working properly and effective;
  • The procedures in place upon the discovery of asbestos were inadequate and the trust failed to prevent re-entry into the contaminated area by other workers.

The trust pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,385.80.

Conclusions and comments

HSE inspector David Kivlin said:

The trust should have controlled this potentially lethal risk by identifying the type, location and condition of any ACMs within the accommodation block at the Hospital by implementing suitable precautions to prevent its disturbance.

Although there is no indication that members of the public at the hospital were exposed as a result of the failings, asbestos related diseases are currently untreatable and claim the lives of an estimated 5,000 people per year in the UK.

This prosecution should act as a reminder, not just to hospitals, but to anyone in control of the repair and maintenance of non-domestic properties, of the need to ensure that correct control measures are put in place to ensure that exposure to asbestos is prevented, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Here, the size of the fine was not significant. However, this case still made headlines and brought attention to issues related to ACMs within NHS estates. In addition, the work undertaken in this case is the type of work being undertaken at many other NHS estates every day and is a timely reminder to estates’ teams and NHS Boards alike when reviewing their Risk Registers.

Many older NHS estates are in the process of being renovated, or plans are being discussed regarding future renovation. It is important that all trusts ensure that they have in place a robust and up-to-date asbestos management policy and that this is communicated effectively to all workers and contractors.

For further information about any of the issues in this update, please contact Dewi Ap-Thomas, Partner in the Healthcare Regulatory team, on 0151 242 6898 or dewi.ap-thomas@weightmans.com, or Helen Mitcheson, Trainee Solicitor in the Healthcare Regulatory team on 0161 214 0577 or helen.mitcheson@weightmans.com.

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