Norwich firm fined over asbestos breach

A Norwich-based construction company has been fined �30,000 after endangering employees' lives by failing to ensure that proper precautions were taken when handling asbestos.

City magistrates heard that members of staff at East Anglian Construction Ltd, a subsidiary of Peter Colby Commercials, had been asked to remove the hazardous building material from the company's headquarters at Diamond House in Vulcan Road, Norwich.

The company had obtained estimates from specialist companies to remove the asbestos but, after being quoted sums between �24,000 and �30,000, bosses decided to carry out the work themselves.

They checked online to find out what precautions to take - but actually followed instructions for removing asbestos concrete rather than asbestos insulation board, meaning staff were not properly equipped.

The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious and deadly illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Symptoms often do not become apparent until years after a person comes into contact with asbestos.

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The company pleaded guilty to three breaches of health and safety regulations.

Prosecutor Matthew Edwards said: 'This procedure presented a serious danger to the health of employees and that will be hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives.'

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He said the company had known it was dealing with insulation boards, not concrete, as this had been specified in the quotes it had received.

But Adrian Darbishirecorr, defending, insisted East Anglian Construction was not a 'cowboy operation' that had deliberately cut corners to save money.

The company had paid for equipment and taken precautions - but had made a mistake by following the wrong guidelines.

He added: 'The company accepts that the way the work was carried out was unsatisfactory. But it was not a cavalier approach.

'It is a case of a company falling short in genuine efforts to comply with regulations, not a deliberate breach aimed at cutting costs. This was not a case of deliberately putting employees at risk.'

Magistrate Charles Nevick fined the company �30,000 and ordered that it pay �10,000 in legal costs.

He said: 'The company is not in the category of blatant negligence. It made an error and everything followed from that.'

East Anglian Construction is a subsidiary of Peter Colby Commercials which manages an extensive portfolio of industrial, commercial and residential properties across East Anglia. Director Peter Colby was in court for the hearing yesterday.

Susan Thomas, a city council health and safety officer, said: 'The magistrates clearly viewed this as a serious breach of the regulations. Six charges in total were laid and the maximum fine available to the court was made in each case.

'These were not trivial health and safety matters and I hope that others who may be thinking of acting in the same way think again. The dangers of working with asbestos are well known and have been for many years and those in control of premises should know what they are dealing with.'

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