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Written on 30th September 2016 by Melloney Harbutt

General Motors UK Limited (“GMUK”) which produces the well known Vauxhall motor car range, has recently been fined by the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) after contractors were negligently exposed to dangerous asbestos fibres when working at one of its production sites, Ellesmere Port.

Exposure to asbestos can cause diseases such as pleural thickeningasbestosispleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and asbestos induced lung cancer, the latter 3 of which are fatal conditions.

An investigation by the HSE at the site found that GMUK instructed contractors to undertake works to replace a number of high pressure hot water boilers fitted with gas burners in the company’s paint unit. Whilst compiling site safety risk assessments suspected Asbestos Insulating Boards (“AIB’s”) were discovered beneath external cladding on the stores building.

During the contract a decision was made to change the location of the new pipe work. GMUK did not conduct a revised health and safety risk assessment or review the original risk assessment at all.

During the revised works the contractors came across possible AIB’s which were disturbed. The contractors were unable to check the sites asbestos register to check if the boards were in fact AIB’s as GMUK had not made the register available to them. Scientific tests later confirmed that the boards were in fact AIB’s.

GMUK did not stop the contractor undertaking any works to prevent any AIB being disturbed. The contractors conducted works which included the removal and cutting of holes in the AIB, an extremely dangerous process.

GMUK were prosecuted by the HSE and the case was heard in the Liverpool Crown Court.

GMUK pleaded guilty to a single breach of Section 3 (1) the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £ 11,779 in prosecution costs.

Speaking after the hearing, Jane Carroll, a HSE inspector said:

“Asbestos kills around 5,000 workers each year; this is more than the number killed on UK roads. Asbestos can be present within any premises built or refurbished before the year 2000 … Whenever asbestos containing materials are found to be present, companies have a legal duty to document and implement an Asbestos Management Plan which includes measures to adequately control the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.”

Boyes Turner’s knowledge of GMUK

Boyes Turner have pursued numerous asbestos related disease claims against GMUK. It is known to Boyes Turner that GMUK has copious amounts of asbestos within its premises, something that is confirmed by GMUK’s need to have asbestos registers on site.

The asbestos in GMUK’s premises is not confined to AIB’s alone, it also comprises of asbestos lagging, corrugated asbestos roofing panels and asbestos lined ovens amongst other items.

Boyes Turner would hope that GMUK, a business with a healthy capital would now employ specialist asbestos removal firms to remove all asbestos from its sites and replace it with suitable alternative materials. The longer asbestos is left within GMUK’s premises the greater the risk that other workers will go on to suffer from an asbestos related disease.