The NHS trust that runs Watford General Hospital has been ordered to pay nearly £90,000 for putting its staff at risk of exposure to asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive began an investigation after West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust sent it a ‘Dangerous Occurance Report’ in 2011. It found that prior to 2011 surveys into the presence of asbestos at the hospitals were deficient. The manager with overall responsibility for asbestos was inadequately qualified, training was lacking, record keeping and appropriate management plans were also deficient and maintenance staff had been potentially exposed to asbestos. Prosecutor Adam Payter said that 47 estate staff who had been involved in maintenance work at the hospitals had been contacted. None had contracted any condition, but there is a risk they may contract a disease in the future. The trust admitted that it failed to ensure the health and safety of employees exposed to asbestos. It also pleaded guilty to failing to have a written plan; failing to take measures for managing the risk from asbestos and failing to give adequate training to employees. The case was committed to the crown court for sentence. Mr Payter, representing the Health and Safety Executive, said an aggravating factor in the case was that the trust had been reckless. Colin McCaul QC, defending, said the trust had self-reported its inadequacies over asbestos management to the Health and Safety Executive. He commented: “The system now in operation is robust, comprehensive and easily comprehensible. All asbestos has now been removed or contained. There has been an action plan for removal and containment. The asbestos policy had not been fully understood and not implemented. That situation has now totally changed.” The Trust was fined £55,000 and ordered to pay the Health and Safety Executive’s costs of £34,078.69 Samantha Jones, Chief Executive, said: “Today, the Trust received sentence for the five offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to which we pleaded guilty in June this year. The offences relate to the management of asbestos at our three hospital sites over a period in excess of ten years dating from the creation of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust in 2000. “Whilst the charges concern events which pre-date my arrival at the Trust, I take full responsibility on behalf of the Trust Board for the failures which led to the prosecution. “Asbestos is common in buildings of the age of our hospitals, but the court found that the Trust had not taken its responsibilities as seriously as it should have done in relation to the safe management of asbestos, and for that I apologise. “Importantly, we have made significant changes in recent years to the way we manage and control asbestos across our hospitals, ensuring the risk of exposure is at the lowest possible level. This includes:
- Undertaking new and detailed surveys to show where the asbestos is on our sites;
- Implementing dedicated asbestos management plans for each hospital and ensuring they are shared with relevant staff and contractors;
- Improved training for appropriate staff about the risks relating to asbestos and a detailed induction for all contractors;
- Appointing a dedicated senior manager who has overall responsibility for the control and management of asbestos at our hospitals;
- Safely removing a significant amount of asbestos.
“We have invested heavily in the safe removal and management of asbestos across all three sites. Since 2012, we have spent almost £1.6 million and we plan to spend a further £500,000 over the course of this year. “The sentence received was a fine of £55,000 and an order to pay the Health and Safety Executive’s costs of £34,078.69.” For more, see September’s My News Magazines