Asbestos risk costs hotel group £200K

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A court has ordered a hotels group to pay fines and costs totalling over £200,000 following an asbestos scare at one of its properties in Kent.

Asbestos Removal

Canterbury Crown Court found that the hotel chain instructed workers to proceed with a refurbishment programme at the hotel ahead of determining a possible asbestos risk as stipulated by law.

The court was told that "widespread" asbestos had been identified in the building's eaves by a qualified surveyor, who was asked to inspect the site after work had begun.

The surveyor also reported the presence of asbestos on the hotel's 2nd floor, which suggested a link with the same project's refurbishment of ceiling and walls.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was told of the problem and the asbestos was taken away by an authorised specialist contractor. The hazardous area of the building was sealed to stop potentially lethal asbestos fibres contaminating other parts of the hotel.

Since the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases can take some time to appear – in the case of the aggressive cancer mesothelioma the latency period can be up to 40 years – it is too early to confirm whether anyone inhaled the fibres and was consequently placed at risk.

For the HSE, Melvyn Stancliffe said after the hearing that the hotel group had undertaken work without a prior full asbestos survey. "The company's failure to deal with the asbestos could have resulted in up to 22 workers being exposed to asbestos from the outset of the project until the end of July 2010."

Mr Stancliffe noted that while visitors were prohibited from entering the areas containing asbestos, the fibres might have reached some parts of the hotel to which guests had access.

"The simple fact is that because of the company's failures, both guests and workers have been put at risk, and they now face an uncertain future.

"This situation was wholly avoidable and I hope today's prosecution also highlights the need to ensure that workers are given the appropriate training to ensure that asbestos is properly managed and dealt with."

Pleading guilty to 2 breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the hotel group was fined £160,000 with costs of £40,051.

Emma Costin head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar comments: "There is no safe dose of asbestos. It has been known since the early 1960s that even slight or transient exposure to asbestos dust can cause serious illness or death. This is not controversial. However there is still a worrying high level of ignorance and complacency about asbestos."

"Possibly this is because asbestos lung diseases typically take many years to develop, so people think they can get away with lax standards, and often in a way they do because the victim may not remember or know where the asbestos exposure took place or the company concerned may have ceased to trade. Lives are at stake and for this reason it is vital that the HSE continues to take as tough a stance as possible in situations such as this."


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