A letting agent has been hit with £4,000 of fines and costs after a self-employed handyman was exposed to asbestos while carrying out work on a client’s property.
The case highlights health and safety legislation responsibilities for agents, in particular preparing risk assessments of properties and checking the competence of those who carry out maintenance jobs.
The handyman, who does not wish to be named, regularly carried out work on properties managed by agents Rochefort Shugar, a family-run firm in Cardiff.
On October 15 last year, the handyman was sent to a domestic property to fix a leaking porch roof.
As he was removing a sheet of material from the underside panel of the damaged roof, he realised the insulation board contained asbestos. The sheet was broken during removal and the surrounding area was contaminated with asbestos debris.
The Health and Safety Executive, prosecuting, told Barry Magistrates’ Court the removal of the panel and the sweeping up and bagging of the debris would have resulted in a significant release of asbestos fibres into the air.
The handyman wore two dust masks while removing the board, but did not undergo any decontamination procedures and was not wearing a protective, disposable suit. The court heard the fibres could have contaminated his hair, skin and clothing and may also have been inhaled.
The HSE investigation found the handyman had not been given any indication that asbestos was present in the property.
No risk assessment was carried out, and Rochefort Shugar made no attempt to ensure he was competent to identify or work with asbestos.
A licensed asbestos contractor was later called in to decontaminate the area.
Rochefort Shugar was found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined £1,500 with £2,500 costs.
HSE inspector Steve Richardson said: “There are specific rules and laws regarding hazardous substances like asbestos. If we do not enforce these laws, people’s health can be put at serious risk. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and should be treated with extreme caution.
“Those in charge of maintenance and repair of buildings must ensure work is carried out by competent tradesmen, and that consideration is given to the presence of hazards such as asbestos.”