Asbestos hbeA Rochdale-based re-upholstery firm and company director have been fined after up to 30 employees were exposed to potentially-deadly asbestos fibres for nearly five years.

The Crown Court in Manchester was told the company, which refurbishes furniture for pubs, restaurants and hotels, had moved into a unit at the mill in September 2007 and created a mezzanine storage area in the eaves of the roof.

Workers put foam for furniture in the storage space, often placing it on the beams and underside of the roof, which it later emerged contained asbestos. As employees dragged the foam through the eaves before throwing it down onto the floor, fine layers of asbestos dust were released into the air.

The court heard a HSE inspector visited the company in 2012 on a separate issue but noticed the material on the roof of the mezzanine looked similar to sprayed asbestos and was in a poor condition.

The inspector issued an Improvement Notice after discovering the director had failed to arrange for an asbestos survey to be carried out, despite employees raising concerns that asbestos may be present.

When a survey was eventually completed, it revealed asbestos was indeed present in the roof, and fibres were likely to have been spread throughout the building as the foam was dragged down and taken through the workshop.

As a result, HSE served the company with a Prohibition Notice banning access to the building until it had been decontaminated. However, the company director and another worker re-entered the building at about 8pm on the same day to remove furniture worth approximately £25,000 so it could be delivered to a client, breaching the terms of the Prohibition Notice.

The company was fined £30,000 after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of workers and failing to comply with the Prohibition Notice.

The company director was fined £10,000 after admitting that he deliberately breached the Prohibition Notice. The co-defendants were also ordered to pay joint costs of £20,000.