Balfour Beatty fined £500,000 due to asbestos exposure in London school

18th August 2017

A former trading division of contractor Balfour Beatty the client and demolition contractor have been fined £1.27m after exposing workers to asbestos during a project to create a new home for an expanding primary school.

The exposure happened in July 2012 at the site of the former Warwick School in Walthamstow, east London, which was being converted for St Mary’s Primary School in a £3m project. The school was partially occupied at the time, with pupils later having to be bussed to another site during remedial works. However, it’s said that no pupils were exposed to asbestos fibres.

Balfour Beatty was fined £500,000, while its client for the project, NPS London, was fined £370,000. The demolition contractor on the project was fined £400,000, plus another £175,000 in costs.

As Southwark Crown Court heard, the London Borough of Waltham Forest had a contract with NPS London, a property and development management company owned by Norfolk County Council, to oversee the works. NPS then appointed Mansell Construction Services – a former trading name for part of Balfour Beatty – as principal contractor. Demolition specialist Squibb Group was acting as Mansell’s subcontractor. On 24 July 2012, a worker removed part of a suspended ceiling in one of the ground floor class rooms and identified suspected asbestos containing materials.

Asbestos fibres were subsequently found in many areas in the school.

An HSE investigation found that although an asbestos survey had been completed, the document included multiple caveats and disclaimers, and Mansell had not appropriately checked or assessed it.

As a result, insufficient measures were taken to protect workers at risk of exposure.

The incident in 2012 came two years after the HSE had investigated failure to properly monitor or manage asbestos in several other Walthamstow schools, according to the East London and West Essex Guardian.

In June 2015, the London Borough of Waltham Forest was also fined £66,000 for failing to control employees’ exposure to asbestos in the basement of the town hall.

Balfour Beatty Regional Construction (previously Mansell Construction Services) of Canary Wharf, London was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £32,364 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

NPS London, of Business Park Norwich, Norfolk was fined £370,000 and ordered to pay £32,364 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Squibb Group, of Stanford Le Hope, Essex was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £175,000 after being found guilty after a trial of a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

HSE inspector Sarah Robinson said: “The principal contractor and contractors on site did not review the survey report in detail, and did not take into consideration the multitude of caveats.

“Therefore the work undertaken did not adopt the high standards of control expected for working where there was the potential to expose workers to asbestos.”

The Building Safety Group are aiming to bring the discussion of health and safety in the construction industry to the top of the agenda by working in partnership with construction firms to help them better manage all aspects of health and safety in the workplace.

Resource: Health and Safety at Work