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U.K. GETS TOUGH IN ASBESTOS CASE

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BIRMINGHAM, England -- Recent hefty fines and a prison sentence highlight the need for company directors to take adequate safety measures in dealing with asbestos removal, an investigator says.

A prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency against two directors of engineering company Rollco Screw & Rivet Co. Ltd. and three other people involved in the removal of asbestos resulted earlier this month in total fines and costs of L98,000 ($163,719) and one defendant receiving a nine-month prison sentence.

It is only the second custodial sentence -- and the longest -- for a conviction under the HSE's asbestos regulations.

"The importance of property owners and managers effectively and properly managing asbestos when it is found on their property has been highlighted by the severity of the sentences," said Alan Craddock, the HSE inspector who conducted the investigation.

"The judge was especially critical that people who had not been licensed to carry out work on asbestos were brought in. It is vital that people check fully the qualifications of any person employed to carry out such work," he said.

The HSE prosecution arose from the removal of asbestos from Rollco's premises last September. The Environment Agency issued its own summonses under the Environmental Protection Act in relation to Rollco's illegal dumping of 300 bags of the asbestos at eight sites in Birmingham, England, where the company is based.

Rollco was fined L40,000 ($66,824) and made to pay court costs of L30,000 ($50,118). The company also had to pay a further "L50,000 ($83,530) to get the work done properly, lost six weeks production and has had its credit rating adversely affected," said Mr. Craddock.

Phillip Rose, managing director of Rollco, was fined L4,000 ($6,682) plus L2,000 ($3,341) in costs, and Rollco company secretary Bernard Rose was fined L6,000 ($10,024) plus L2,000 in costs.

Meanwhile, self-employed Paul Evans, brought in to remove and dispose of the asbestos, was sentenced to nine months in prison for failing to ensure that people not in his employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety and for carrying out the work without a license.

Martyn Joyce and James McNeill, owners of M&M Joyce Ltd., each were fined L6,000 plus L1,000 ($1,671) in costs when replacing the asbestos roof on the Rollco building without a license.

Judge Harris QC, ruling in Birmingham's Crown Court on Sept. 4, said the site was a "dangerous disgrace" and said he had considered giving Messrs. Joyce and McNeill prison sentences, too.

Meanwhile, the HSE is proposing tighter regulations to further protect workers exposed to asbestos. Proposed amendments to the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 and the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987 would ensure that all people exposed to asbestos, including those in the building industry, would be covered by the regulations. The law now covers mainly those involved in manufacturing asbestos.

Other amendments include lowering the control level of chrysotile, or white, asbestos; requiring employers to keep onsite copies of any asbestos exposure assessments and plans to eliminate asbestos; a requirement that respiratory protective equipment be used by anyone handling asbestos to reduce exposure as low as practicable; and a requirement that HSE-appointed medical advisers issue certificates of medical examination to employers and employees.

Subject to Parliamentary approval, the proposals should take effect by the end of the year.

The HSE also is considering increasing the duties of employers to identify and manage asbestos risks in buildings, as "one of the biggest problems (some) workers face is that they do not know when and where they may discover asbestos during their work activities."

This month, the HSE is publishing a consultative document setting out regulatory proposals to restrict further the importation, supply and use of chrysotile. Crocidolite (blue asbestos) importation was prohibited in 1972, and Amosite (brown asbestos) importation was banned in 1980. The consultative document proposes prohibiting all uses of chrysotile, apart from a few essential uses where adequate substitute materials have not yet been developed.

The consultative document will be published soon on the HSE World Wide Web site at www.open.gov.uk/hse/condocs.