A Blackburn based building contractor has been sentenced after unsafe work methods constituted a public risk and resulted in asbestos being disturbed.
Preston Crown Court heard that in November 2020, Mr Mohammed Shafiq, owner of a roller shutter business, purchased a former warehouse in Manner Sutton Street, Blackburn to convert into smaller work units, including one for his own use – Mr Shafiq was using his own employees for this.
A report was received by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) from a member of the public, concerned about the fact that bricks from the blocked-up windows were being knocked out from inside onto the street below, causing risk to passers-by.
The HSE investigation found that as well as the risk posed to pedestrians, no edge protection had been installed to prevent the employees from falling. They were also at risk of an internal fall down an open shaft. Additionally, an asbestos survey had not been carried out on the building prior to work commencing.
As a result, piles of disturbed asbestos containing materials (ACMs) such as asbestos cement and insulation, were lying throughout the site. Workers were dry sweeping construction dust and debris possibly containing carcinogenic asbestos dusts without any respiratory protective equipment or suitable personal protective equipment. None of the workers had been provided with any training in asbestos awareness.
Live electric cables were being trailed through water without RCD protection, posing a risk of electric shock, and there was a general lack of training and suitable equipment for work to be carried out in a safe manner. A residual-current device (RCD) is an electrical safety device that quickly breaks an electrical circuit with leakage current to ground. It is to protect equipment and to reduce the risk of serious harm from an ongoing electric shock. Injury may still occur in some cases, for example if a worker receives a brief shock before the electrical circuit is isolated, falls after receiving a shock, or if the person touches both conductors at the same time.
An experienced principal contractor should have been hired to assess risks and undertake refurbishment work in a controlled manner. A principal contractor is appointed by the client to control the construction phase of any project involving more than one contractor.
Principal contractors have an important role in managing health and safety risks during the construction phase so they must have the skills, knowledge, experience and, where relevant, organisational capability to carry out this work.
The building contractor sentenced for over unsafe work was Mohammed Shafiq of Blackburn who pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Regulation 4 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and Regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,636.08
HSE inspector Christine McGlynn said after the hearing:
“The public can be reassured that HSE takes concerns seriously and will not hesitate to investigate thoroughly and prosecute those who put workers and members of the public at risk.’’
Construction projects require detailed planning to ensure that they are carried out safely. The appointment of a principal contractor to plan and coordinate the construction project will help to ensure activities are done safely. Workers engaged in construction activities should be competent and have a good understanding of safe working practices.
Where construction involves disturbing the fabric of a building, an assessment is required in respect of asbestos. Asbestos containing materials may be present in any building which was constructed or refurbished before 2000 and it may be necessary to engage a specialist asbestos contractor to undertake an intrusive survey.
If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Jacksons team.