Rochdale Electric Welding Company (REWCO) has been ordered to pay more than £20,000 after exposing employees to potentially fatal asbestos fibres at an industrial site in Devon. Asbestos dust and fibres were released on 25 May 2010 during work to remove industrial boilers, associated fixed pipework and a boiler house at a redundant Dairy Crest site near Totnes railway station. The dangerous material remained exposed until a clean-up operation belatedly commenced two days later. The national dairy company was prosecuted on Friday 13 September alongside REWCO, of Middleton, after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified failings with the planning of the job and a lack of training for workers involved.

Plymouth Crown Court heard that Dairy Crest had agreed to sell boilers from the redundant plant at Totnes, plus another site in Somerset, to REWCO, with the welding firm also dismantling all associated fixed plant pipework at both sites and demolishing the boiler house at Totnes as part of the purchase. HSE established that on 24 May 2010 REWCO began removing the boilers at the Totnes site without carrying out sufficient enquiries in advance to determine whether asbestos was present. Dairy Crest had carried out a suitable survey for asbestos material some years previously, but they failed to pass on this report. Three REWCO workers carried out the removal of the boilers and pipework while wearing normal work clothes that became contaminated with asbestos dust and fibres. As a result all three were exposed, and could potentially face long-term respiratory problems and even incurable lung diseases. HSE inspectors visited the site on 27 May 2010 and found widespread contamination.

Steps were immediately taken to prevent any further risk to anybody on the site or nearby. Dairy Crest Limited, of Claygate House, Littleworth Road, Esher, Surrey, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay a further £22,214 in costs after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 in its capacity as the main duty holder for the site. Rochdale Electric Welding Company Limited, of Dingle Farm, Hollin Lane, Middleton, pleaded guilty to two breaches of the same legislation for its role in undertaking the work. The company was fined a total of £8,000 with £13,786 in costs. Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector, Martin Lee said: “This was a very serious incident that could severely impact on the future health of the employees who worked with and near the asbestos.

Both Dairy Crest Ltd and Rochdale Electric Welding Company Ltd committed safety failings that led to them being needlessly exposed to dangerous dust and fibres. “There were clear failings by both companies to identify and properly manage and control the asbestos containing material before work started, and to provide appropriate protection for workers when it did. “Regulations on dealing safely with asbestos have been in place for many years and are widely known in the industry. “This totally needless incident would not have happened if Dairy Crest Ltd had provided Rochdale Electric Welding Company with the results of its asbestos survey and if Rochdale Electric Welding Company had carried out proper enquiries before commencing work at the site.” For further information on how to reduce the risk of asbestos calling one of the sperion asbestos team for advice.

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