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Council failed to remove asbestos from school following asbestos survey

An Essex local authority received advice following an asbestos survey that it should remove asbestos from one of its schools but failed to do so, only for the HSE to identify the management shortcomings as part of an inspections initiative some six years later.

In 2004, Thurrock Council hired a specialist contractor to carry out an asbestos survey in the boiler room at Stifford Clays Junior School, in Thurrock. The dust and debris in the boiler room were found to contain asbestos fibres and the contractor advised the council the material should be removed immediately under licensed conditions.

However, this work was never carried out, and in April 2010 the HSE visited the school as part of a national initiative to ensure that local authorities understood their duties in managing asbestos across their schools. The HSE found asbestos fibres were still present in the boiler room and school staff and contractors had regularly entered the room during the intervening six-year period.

On 24 April 2010, the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice to the council, which banned anyone from entering the room until it was made safe. The council was also served two Improvement Notices relating to the management of asbestos in its schools elsewhere in the county.

HSE inspector Samantha Thomson said: “This was a clear example of a local authority failing to manage asbestos across its schools for a number of years.

“At Stifford Clays Junior School, the caretaker regularly worked in the boiler room with dust and debris over a period of six years. She will have been exposed to asbestos fibres and now faces an anxious wait to see if it results in any long-term health issues.

“This was easily preventable, Thurrock Council was informed of the potential for exposure in 2004, yet failed to act on the knowledge until HSE’s involvement.”

Thurrock Council appeared at Basildon Crown Court on 1 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.10 and reg.11(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations and reg.5 of the MHSWR 1999. It was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £15,326 in costs.

After the hearing, a spokesperson for the council told SHP: “Since the HSE’s visit in April 2010 the responsible personnel have changed, and the council has revised its policies and procedures and implemented a rigorous training and monitoring regime.”

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