Stirling Council fined for ignoring asbestos warnings

Stirling Council
has been fined £10,500 for ignoring warnings for nine years about asbestos in the basement of its Old Viewforth headquarters.

The authority sent office staff to sweep, dust and move furniture about in a boiler room where pipes were lagged with the potentially deadly material.

A court heard consultants had warned the council three times about the danger. The council said it is offering support to all “potentially affected” staff.

Stirling Sheriff Court was told the workers were not provided with protective clothing or masks, and there was a risk they could develop asbestos-related illnesses in later life.

They recommended the asbestos should be removed as soon as possible and the affected areas cleaned and decontaminated. However, no action was taken, and no warnings were issued to employees.

Further surveys in 2010 and 2011 found the asbestos was still in place, with one identifying lagging on a pipe as “high priority risk”, with an associated high potential from flying fibres.

Mrs Brown said three council employees were sent unprotected into the boiler room in February 2012 to give it a “deep clean”.

She said they were given no warnings about the presence of asbestos and how to minimise the danger from any asbestos, and no masks or proper protective clothing.

Another expert survey in 2012 warned about asbestos in the boiler room, at which point the council’s health and safety department realised that employees might have been exposed.

The council restricted access to the boiler room and reported itself to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which launched an investigation.

Risk assessors concluded there was “quite limited” danger to people who had just walked through the boiler room. However, they said that “dry brushing” could have caused asbestos fibre levels in the area to peak at levels in excess of workplace limits.

Mrs Brown said none of the employees had yet displayed ill-effects, and the asbestos had been removed by a licensed contractor.

Stirling Council admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act between 13 February 2003 and 31 May 2012. The council’s solicitor, Lesley Allan, said the authority could not explain what had gone wrong. She said:

“It’s difficult to determine why the information in the (2003) Institute of Occupational Medicine report came not to be fully acted on when it should have been.”

Sheriff Christopher Shead said the presence of asbestos in the building should have raised concerns that ought to have been obvious to anyone.

Stirling Council said the health and wellbeing of employees was its “top priority” and it had carried out training in asbestos awareness. A council spokeswoman said:

“Following the discovery of potential asbestos exposure and the service of Improvement Notices in 2012, the council responded quickly and professionally, cooperating fully with the HSE investigation and putting in place measures to mitigate the risk to employees.

The council has offered support to all staff potentially affected by this matter.”