We’ve had numerous stories here of contractors here in the U.S. who attempt to cut corners on asbestos abatement (or attempt to ignore it altogether) and wind up paying big bucks in fines and other penalties. Sometimes, these can amount to ten times or more what it might have cost to simply have had the job done properly and legally in the first place; fines of between $200,000 and $350,000 are not unusual. In some cases, violators serve prison time.
Contractors who are guilty of similar violations in the U.K. get off pretty easily in comparison.
Recently, one Mustaq Bargit, owner and operator of M & B Builders in London, was assessed fines totaling 15,137 GBP (over $30,000) by a Magistrate’s Court for having allowed work on a construction site to proceed prior to the completion of an asbestos inspection. This was in violation of Great Britain’s Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974. Although not specifically addressing asbestos hazards, this regulation does make it “…the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
The office of the Health and Safety Executive is the U.K.’s analogue to OSHA in the U.S. and issues regulations and sends out inspectors to jobsites as necessary. It was a visit to one of Mr. Bargit’s jobsites by HSE inspectors that raised concerns regarding asbestos. Subsequent inspections and tests revealed that asbestos-containing materials were indeed present.
One HSE inspector issued the following statement regarding Mr. Bargit’s violation:
“All contractors have a duty to ensure people’s health and safety. In this instance Mr Bargit had been made aware of the possible presence of asbestos but failed to take the proper precautions necessary to deal with this danger. Asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related death in this country. Asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed so if possible it should be managed and contained.”
Besides the relatively low monetary penalty, what is interesting in light of the seriousness of Great Britain’s asbestos problem is that such a significant violation should be addressed in a Magistrate’s Court. This is roughly equivalent to a U.S. traffic court, where relatively minor offenses are tried.