Unison WF in TUC’s Risks – Council fined after a decade of asbestos neglect

A London council fined for its criminal failings on asbestos safety should listen more closely to its safety reps, a union has urged. UNISON reps on Waltham Forest Borough Council were speaking out after the local authority was fined for exposing members of staff and visiting contractors to the potentially lethal dangers of asbestos, which it knew to be present in the Town Hall basement. The cancer-causing material was identified in a survey commissioned by the council in 2002, yet it failed to act on the findings and put effective controls in place. Westminster Magistrates heard the issue only became public by chance in mid-2012 when a local resident put in a request to the council to see some election expenses documentation. The authority denied the request, saying the paperwork was contaminated with asbestos. This led to a referral to the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Mythbuster Challenge Panel’, which in turn led to the council’s criminal negligence being uncovered. Waltham Forest Borough Council was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs. HSE inspector Chris Tilley said the council was “aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks. However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade.” Bill Palmer, Health and Safety Officer with UNISON’s Waltham Forest Branch, said: “If this work had been carried out in 2002 the cost would have been substantially lower,” adding: “The unions here have been on at the council about asbestos management for as long as I can remember and if they had listened to the unions then all of this could have been avoided.” The union said it “advises all employees and contractors who have visited the Town Hall basement from 2002 to 2012 to report their potential exposure to asbestos to the local authority and to their trade union.”

UNISON Waltham Forest news release.

ŸHSE news release.

https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/health-and-safety/risks-newsletter/risks-2015/tuc-risks-705-6-june-2015

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