On a regular basis the asbestos claims team at Boyes Turner read reports where building firms and contractors are prosecuted by the health and safety executive for either not complying with health and safety law at all, or where a lax approach to health and safety law has been adopted.
In 2017 alone cases have been reported where contractors have failed to compile asbestos surveys, where asbestos surveys have been ignored, where asbestos registers have not been made available to contractors and there was even a case where asbestos health and safety documents were forged by an asbestos analyst conducting asbestos health and safety surveys.
But what is the cost of this illegal approach to asbestos.
Firstly building and contracting firms face the risk of prosecution if they breach health and safety law.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is one of the few government agencies other than the Crown Prosecution Service that has the power to bring prosecution proceedings in the United Kingdom.
In most cases HSE prosecutions will result in a fine. The level of the fine will depend on the significance of the breaches in question, but in July 2017 three contractors working on a contract were fined £1.27 Million for breaches of health and safety law alone. The level of this fine illustrates the seriousness attached to asbestos health and safety breaches by the HSE and the Courts. A link to the case report can be found here.
The HSE also has the power to serve improvement notices on contractors requiring better practices to be adopted.
If you would like advice on good asbestos health and safety practices you can visit the HSE website which has a range of resources including reference cards, guidance documents, FAQ’s, official forms and best practice advice to name a few. A link to the HSE website can be found here.
As per the above, HSE prosecutions are widely report in the local press, on line and on the HSE website.
Businesses that are prosecuted by the HSE face reputational damage which could have a long lasting effect on their business.
One example of brand damage could be that members of staff and contractors may no longer be willing to work for employers that are known to ignore the health and safety of its workers. This could create staffing problems to employers and in turn contracts may not be completed on time resulting in non-completion clause fines being enforced.
Another example of brand damage could be that main site contractors may be reluctant to employ the services of businesses that are known to breach health and safety law. If this were to occur business could face financial problems and run the risk of insolvency.
Businesses also face being under closer scrutiny from the HSE if they are known to have a poor asbestos health and safety history which could cause problems for the business in the future, even if they do improve their safe working practices.
Lastly, but most importantly businesses face the risk of causing irreversible personal injury to their employees, others working on site, their customers and even members of the public if they ignore asbestos health and safety law.
Asbestos diseases do not manifest immediately and typically diseases are suffered some 30 – 40 years after asbestos fibres are inhaled. It is perhaps for this reason that asbestos is sometimes disregarded as being highly dangerous as its effects are not immediately recognisable.
There are a range of asbestos diseases and each will result in pain, discomfort and respiratory disability. In diagnoses such as asbestos induced lung cancer or mesothelioma, the disease is fatal with victims having just a matter of months to live following their diagnosis.
The crucial true cost of asbestos health and safety breaches is therefore the damage inflicted upon those affected by the exposure to asbestos suffered as a result of the breaches. In most cases it is tradesmen working for building firms and contractors that are affected by asbestos health and safety law breaches.
All tradesmen go to work to earn an honest day’s pay so they can provide for their families and employers owe them both a legal and moral duty to ensure their health and safety in the workplace is protected.
Boyes Turner recommend that all companies ensure they are up to date with current health and safety law requirements regarding asbestos. If in doubt the HSE can provide advice and guidance and specialist asbestos contractors are also available to assist businesses with their health and safety duties. By complying with asbestos health and safety law you greatly reduce the risk of your employees becoming injured in the future as well as protecting your business.