Across the Pond: South London Trust Fined for Asbestos

Despite the fact that the U.K. has traditionally had more and stronger protections regarding asbestos than the U.S., mesothelioma has become a veritable plague in that country; asbestos has now become the largest single cause of occupationally-related deaths.
In London, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has levied a fine on the St. George’s NHS Trust in the amount of 5,000 GBP (currently a little over $10,000) and ordered the organization to pay 6,432 GBP (around $13,000) in additional costs after entering a guilty plea for the violation of the U.K.’s Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002. The HSE failed to have asbestos management safeguards in place in a number of residential buildings in South London’s Wandsworth area. According to the complaint, the Trust was aware of the asbestos hazard for several years, yet took no action to control the risks of exposure.

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were present in the residential buildings managed by the trust and were frequently damaged by maintenance workers–which released friable fibers into the air. An HSE inspector expressed disappointment in the Trust, which is a large organization that affects many people’s lives: “The Trust put people at risk by not taking a responsible approach. The risks associated with exposure to airborne asbestos fibres are well known and the measures required to control it are easily achievable.” A local magistrate described the violation as a “serious offence,” and blamed the situation on a failure to communicate as well as a failure to take proper action. Because the organization pleaded guilty, some leniency was shown, and the case was not taken up by the Queen’s Bench. The specific regulation violated was Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, which prohibits an employer from assigning work to employees that may expose them to asbestos unless the type of asbestos has been identified, and/or the hazard has been addressed.