Asbestos boss with ‘cavalier attitude to safety’ narrowly avoids jail

The director of a company which removed asbestos with hammers and used wet wipes to clean it up had “a cavalier attitude to safety”.

Jeremy Uphill, the director of Sarum Asbestos Ltd, based in Charlton-All-Saints, pleaded guilty to six charges of negligence relating to work between 2012 and 2015.

Uphill, 61, now living in Tavistock, Devon, was sentenced to a six month prison sentence suspended for two years at Salisbury Crown Court on Friday.

The micro-company, which turned over just under a million pounds a year before going into liquidation, was also fined £100,000.

Prosecuting, Simon Morgan, said Uphill agreed to remove pipe lagging at Moonfleet Manor hotel in Weymouth, despite not being licensed to work with high-risk asbestos.

A Sarum Asbestos employee, Mr King, said in a statement he never received any training and had been instructed to “pull the lagging off by hand”.

Afterwards the area was hoovered and wiped down, but the hotel manager inspected the area and found debris, and an employee returned and “used only wet wipes” to clear the area.

At the New Forresters Care Home site, near Southampton, four surveys had been carried out to determine how much dangerous material was present.

One survey estimated 138 square metres of asbestos, and 15 linear metres but Sarum Asbestos’s survey picked up on only 25 square metres of hazardous material.

Mr Morgan said the Sarum Asbestos contractors wore normal clothes with no protective material as “they had seen a management survey [which said] it was a low level asbestos, which it clearly was not”.n  He added;

“There was no decontamination station for the workers and they wore the clothes home.”

One employee described “using hammers” to remove the panels in question, and Mr Morgan said “the ceiling was pulled down with crowbars” despite official advice to keep asbestos intact while removing it to reduce the number of fibres produced.

A survey carried out after the work was completed found asbestos material present and Mr Morgan said: “It had implications for all who would later use the area.”

Mr Morgan said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sent Sarum Asbestos a warning letter in May 2013 “as a result of concerns raised by various clients”.

In July that year, the HSE interviewed Jeremy Uphill and “discussed the identified failings”.

Mr Morgan said these included working while unlicensed, inadequate risk assessments and training and unsafe removal methods.

But he said “despite that” meeting, Sarum Asbestos went on to carry out work at the former police station in Corsham in 2015, while still unlicensed.

A month later HSE issued Sarum Asbestos with a prohibition notice preventing them from carrying out any further works, and the company went into liquidation.

Reports also mentioned works in Salisbury, including in Bouverie Avenue, but Uphill denied claims of wrongdoing in those instances.

Mr Morgan said “quotes from Sarum [were] literally half that of other companies” and that there was “an element of profit before safety.”

Defending, Frank Abbott said although Uphill had pleaded guilty he had “differing views” of how the work had been carried out.  He said;

“He got into a position where he was taking on things he shouldn’t have taken on. He thought this was just not going to be a problem and he very stupidly allowed it to happen.”

A statement from HSE said Sarum Asbestos was guilty of “gross negligence” but Mr Abbott said this was “a matter of semantics, in a way”.

Uphill still works in asbestos removal, providing surveys for another company, and Mr Abbott said:

“He’s learned his lesson – there’s no cost-cutting or anything of that nature now.”

Judge Keith Cutler said there “should be no shortcuts” in asbestos removal. Addressing Uphill, Judge Cutler he said:

“You displayed from time to time a cavalier attitude to safety. Many listening to this case would shudder with alarm.

A key way of looking at it would be ignorance, but I’m afraid I take the view that it is arrogance on your part, that you could continue despite the warnings you had had. We won’t know if there has been any harm until years down the line.”