Building surveyor fined £30k for flawed asbestos survey

Building surveyor Watts Group has been fined £30,000 for health and safety breaches that resulted in two construction workers being exposed to asbestos.

Seamus Kelly, a joiner, and his colleague Alan Tweed, were exposed to asbestos while replacing doors in the service ducts beneath Holywell Hospital, Antrim in 2013.

In addition to being the appointed project managers for the removal of asbestos containing materials from the underground service ducts, Watts also organised and conducted an asbestos survey for these ducts.

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The information contained in the survey was then used to develop illustrative site plans showing areas where asbestos ways present and areas where it had been identified as having been removed. Watts then supplied these plans to a construction subcontractor whose role was to remove and replace doors and to carry out other building work in the ducts.

But an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) found that the survey fell far below the required standards. Among its shortcomings, asbestos was discovered in poor condition in numerous areas throughout the ducts where the Watts plans illustrated there was no asbestos.

Speaking after sentencing at Antrim Crown Court, HSENI inspector Jonathan Knox said:

“Safety advisors, project administrators and asbestos surveyors perform a vital role in the construction industry. The information they provide is relied upon by many others to keep workers safe throughout a construction project.

Organisations, such as the Health Trust in this case, expect to be able to rely on the opinions of their experts to assist in the prevention of exposure to asbestos fibres.

This case should act as a reminder to advisors and surveyors involved in construction projects that measures must be taken, prior to the start of any works, to ensure that the correct type of asbestos survey is completed and carried out with patience, in a thorough and systematic manner.”