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Council fined £200k for exposing primary school staff to asbestos

Kent Council County (KCC) has been fined £200,000 after asbestos was disturbed in a primary school in Sittingbourne.

Canterbury Crown Court was told that environmental health officers from the council were carrying out a routine food inspection at Lansdowne Primary School’s kitchen on 6 November 2014 when they found asbestos rope hanging from the ceiling.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the school’s caretaker had disturbed an asbestos flue pipe and an asbestos rope gasket during the removal of an air steriliser in May 2013.

Neither the caretaker nor the headteacher were trained in asbestos management or awareness, the HSE said, and the council had failed to control the risk of exposure.

It served a prohibition notice on the primary school, which is now the Stour Academy Trust and no longer run by the council.

The notice said: “You have failed to prevent the exposure of employees to asbestos so far as reasonably practicable, in particular the partial steriliser flue and sealant in the school kitchen.”

KCC pleaded guilty to breaching reg 10(1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations, which covers the provision of adequate information, instruction and training to employees, and was ordered to pay the fine plus costs of £21,500 within one month.

During the sentencing hearing judge Heather Norton said the dangers of asbestos had been highlighted in reports from 2010 and 2012 as the housing around the flue pipe contained amosite and the flue itself comprised chrysotile, Kent Online reported.

She went on to question why the headteacher had ticked boxes stating that the caretaker had received asbestos training in 2012 and 2013 when he said that he hadn’t been given any.

“The headteacher’s explanation as to why she did this, if it was not correct, is at the very least extremely vague,” judge Norton was reported as saying.

After the hearing HSE inspector Kevin Golding said: “The council had implemented a system, but they had failed to take the simple step of checking to ensure it was being rigorously adhered to, resulting in employees not receiving the appropriate training.”

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