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Thurrock Council fined over asbestos found in Stifford Clays school
THURROCK Council has been landed with a £50,000 after it was prosecuted for exposing its employees to asbestos.
A judge at Basildon Crown Court ruled the authority should pay a £35,000 fine as well as £15,000 costs after asbestos was found in a boiler room at Stifford Clays Junior School in Grays.
A Health and Safety Executive investigation in 2010 revealed a report in 2003 had revealed the asbestos in the school but the council had not acted.
Caretaker, Olwen Lane, was exposed to the harmful material as she went in and out of the boiler room.
Long-term exposure to asbestos can cause respiratory problems and an increased risk of contracting lung cancer or mesothelioma.
Defence counsel, Mark Watson, apologised for the council’s failings.
He said: “A profound apology on the council’s behalf, specifically to Mrs Lane who is in court, but also to the court and the wider public in this area.
“The apology from the council is backed up by a guilty plea to all three charges.”
Mr Watson said the council had made changes to the way it dealt with asbestos.
He added: “There is a package of measures that have been brought to bear.
“The risk of this happening again is to all intents and purposes extinguished.”
Judge David Owen-Jones imposed a £35,000 fine for the council’s failure to prevent Mrs Lane’s exposure to asbestos and £5,000 for the two charges of failing to give training to staff about the dangers of asbestos and failing to have a plan in place for the control of the harmful substance.
Mr Owen-Jones, sentencing, said no children had been exposed to the asbestos as the room had been kept locked.
He said: “In my judgement, it is apparent that Thurrock Council failed lamentably to do what good management and common sense required them to do.
“Lack of communication, poor management and the failure to heed warnings and take action promptly and efficiently is what, I am afraid, occured.”
The Health and Safety Executive welcomed the ruling and said they hoped it would stand as a cautionary tale to other councils.
Samantha Thomson, investigating inspector, said she supported the comments made by Judge Owen-Jones as he outlined the case.
She said: “I think the fine imposed is not for the courts but I think the judge summed up very fairly he clearly understood the case. He brought out all the salient points.
“As long as this is a learning opportunity for other authorities. There was just complete mis-management or non-management of the whole asbestos policy.
“The outcome of this is three-fold. We wanted Thurrock Council to stand up and acknowledge what they got wrong, We wanted Thurrock Council to improve - not to continue getting it wrong - which they have done.
“Thirdly, we wanted it to be a lesson nationally for other councils that they have to manage asbestos in their schools properly. I think it is fantastic as it will have a national impact.”