Failure to manage asbestos can cost your business hundreds of thousands

Date published: 19 April 2016

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is warning that recent prosecutions relating to asbestos management failings show that workers and businesses are still being put in jeopardy.

Despite the awareness about the dangers to workers’ health, it is clear that some companies are still ignoring their legal duties around managing asbestos.

During the financial year 2015/16 a record number of companies were prosecuted by HSENI, resulting in fines totalling £73,000, ranging from £1,000 to £30,000, plus prosecution costs totalling almost £6,000, ranging from £564 to £2,500.

Apart from the fines imposed by the courts, other costs such clean-up costs of contaminated sites, legal defence costs and increased insurance premiums can total hundreds of thousands of pounds.

By cutting corners through not carrying out proper surveys, poor planning, and failing to work with asbestos properly, companies not only risk the health of workers but also damage their reputations. Cutting corners when it comes to asbestos often ends up with potentially huge, unnecessary and unexpected bills, far exceeding the costs of doing the job properly. These financial penalties can be a severe blow to company profits and operating costs.

Calling for a dramatic improvement by some in the construction industry and those with responsibility for managing asbestos, HSENI’s chief executive Keith Morrison said:

“I think anyone familiar with asbestos is well aware of its potential health risks, so there can be no excuse for anyone ignoring their legal duties to protect workers and sub-contractors.

“But, if the health and well-being of people doesn’t give you enough pause for thought, then consider the extra costs you could face when you get things wrong.

“Where there are serious breaches of health and safety law, HSENI will not hesitate to prosecute, and you may face a hefty fine and a range of additional costs that could impact adversely on your business.”

Buildings constructed or refurbished before the year 2000 may contain asbestos. Anyone who works on the fabric of these buildings, such as maintenance workers, tradesmen, for example electricians, plumbers, joiners or people installing cables could potentially disturb asbestos and are most at risk of exposure. 

All commercial buildings in existence before 2000 must have an asbestos management survey to identify suspected asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) which could be damaged or disturbed while in normal use, or during simple maintenance work.

Before starting work, ideally at the tendering stage, ask for a copy of the asbestos management plan for the building.  If one does not exist or if you have any concerns over the accuracy or content of the plan, work should not start until a full survey is obtained.

When you need more information to help get things right, remember these simple tips:

  • before you start work on a commercial building built before 2000, always ask to see the  management survey and asbestos management plan - no matter how small the job is
  • when undertaking larger jobs or on simple jobs if the management survey hasn’t enough detail, get a refurbishment survey
  • train workers in asbestos awareness
  • check asbestos essentials for information about  your task
  • if you don’t know  either presume that there is asbestos and take the correct precautions or  don’t start working

More information

  • Asbestos
  • HSENI helpline: 0800 0320 121

Notes to editors: 

  1. In 2014, 63 asbestos-related deaths were registered in Northern Ireland with asbestosis and/or mesothelioma recorded on the death certificate as either a primary or secondary cause of death.
  2. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body, sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
  3. HSENI is the lead body responsible for the promotion and enforcement of health and safety at work standards in Northern Ireland.

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