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21.08.14

West Hertfordshire trust fined nearly £90,000 for asbestos risk

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has been ordered to pay nearly £90,000 after putting the staff at its three hospitals at risk of asbestos exposure for more than a decade.

Between April 2000 and December 2011, the estates team at the trust was maintaining buildings at Watford General Hospital, Hemel Hempstead Hospital and St Albans Hospital without knowing that asbestos was present or being trained to identify and control exposure.

St Albans Crown Court was told that over the 11-year period, the trust had identified some of the asbestos materials at their sites but did not have a management or monitoring plan in place to control the risks associated with the deadly fibre.

It was only when additional surveys were carried out in December 2011 that the Trust realised more asbestos was present at all three hospitals than initially identified. West Hertfordshire then alerted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated and brought a prosecution for health and safety breaches against trust.

After pleading guilty to the offences in June, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £55,000 and ordered to pay £ 34,078 in costs after pleading guilty to four breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Samantha Jones, chief executive at the trust, said: “Whilst the charges concern events which pre-date my arrival at the trust, I take full responsibility on behalf of the trust board for the failures which led to the prosecution.

“Asbestos is common in buildings of the age of our hospitals, but the court found that the trust had not taken its responsibilities as seriously as it should have done in relation to the safe management of asbestos, and for that I apologise.”

West Hertfordshire has now made changes to the way it manages and controls asbestos across its estate, these include undertaking new and detailed surveys to show where the asbestos is on its sites; implementing dedicated asbestos management plans for each hospital and ensuring they are shared with relevant staff and contractors; and providing improved training for appropriate staff about the risks relating to asbestos and a detailed induction for all contractors.

A dedicated senior manager who has overall responsibility for the control and management of asbestos at the hospitals has also been appointed, and there has been a significant amount of asbestos removed.

Jones added: “We have invested heavily in the safe removal and management of asbestos across all three sites. Since 2012, we have spent almost £1.6 m and we plan to spend a further £500,000 over the course of this year.”

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Sandra Dias said: “Employers have a duty to protect their staff from the long term health risks associated with asbestos, which include lung cancer and mesothelioma.

“This duty includes finding out whether the premises contains asbestos, assessing the risks and making a plan to manage that risk and act on it.

“West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust did not adequately manage the risk over an 11-year period. As a result, a number of its employees will now have to spend the rest of their lives not knowing whether they have been exposed. We all hope that none will suffer as a result.”

(Image: c. Steve Parsons)

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