Staffordshire County Council and a refurbishment firm have been fined for exposing a nursery class, school staff and two joiners to asbestos fibres after failing to identify Asbestos and handle the accordingly.
The refurbishing company was working at Glenthorne Community Primary School in Cheslyn Hay for the council when the incident happened in February 2009. Two joiners were cutting through a large built-in cupboard in the nursery class when they noticed unidentified material nailed to the back of it.
They showed this to their site manager, who allowed them to carry on dismantling the cupboard and to detach the material. However, the material was asbestos insulating board, which by law should only be moved by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.
The court heard the joiners used an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clear up dust and debris, which would also have spread asbestos fibres in the air.
On the Friday the work was undertaken, seventeen children aged between three and four, were in the classroom for half-day sessions together with a teacher and teaching assistant. A school cleaner, who was working in the classroom later in the day, was also exposed to the potentially dangerous substance.
The following Monday, an analyst, who was monitoring asbestos levels in the air during licensed asbestos removal work, spotted pieces of asbestos insulating board in an open skip. The school was closed immediately for investigation and subsequent decontamination.
A HSE investigation into the incident found the County Council had failed to carry out a pre-refurbishment asbestos survey in the nursery before work started. These surveys were essential to ensure that anyone who was likely to work or disturb asbestos was provided with information on the location and condition of the asbestos.
The Refurbishment company had not taken sufficient steps to identify the asbestos insulating board attached to the cupboard before work started and its procedures for identifying asbestos containing materials were inadequate which permitted their site manager to assume the material was safe to work with and to continue disturbing it.
Source: HSE Website