Council fined after failing to manage asbestos at Teesside site

A Teesside council has been fined for putting workers at risk of exposure to asbestos during clearance work of premises in Stockton prior to demolition.

Stockton on Tees Borough Council acquired the Music and Drama Club in Buchanan Street and decided to demolish it as part of a regeneration project. A survey was carried out in April 2010 that identified areas that contained asbestos.

On 2 July, Teesside Magistrates' Court heard that it was usual practice to "clear and strip" buildings prior to demolition.

This was carried out by one of the council's "Care For Your Area" teams over the weekend of 29-31 May 2010. The eight-strong team removed most of the fixtures and fittings, including doors, seating and a kitchen, and all debris and rubble was swept up, transferred to a refuse vehicle and transported to a landfill site for disposal.

However, when a contractor was appointed to carry out the asbestos removal and demolition of the building in July, it was discovered that the earlier work had disturbed the fabric of the building and some items containing asbestos had already been removed.

A further survey in August 2010 revealed that asbestos had been disturbed or removed in eight areas within the building and the issue was reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October 2010.

An investigation by HSE found that the council had made a series of serious safety failings. It had had failed to make an assessment of the risk created by the presence of asbestos before the clearance work began. There was a chance the workers could be exposed to asbestos, but no plan of work had been agreed and measures taken to prevent potential exposure were inadequate.

What you need to do?

The law says that all demolition, dismantling and structural alteration must be carefully planned and carried out in a way that prevents danger by practitioners with the relevant skills, knowledge and experience. Key issues are: Falls from height, Injury from falling materials, Uncontrolled collapse, Risks from connected services, Traffic management, Hazardous materials, Noise and vibration, Fire, Worker involvement.

A systematic approach to demolition projects is a team effort between many people, who all have responsibilities.

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