NHS Trust fined after workers potentially exposed to asbestos in St Albans

The trust was fined

The trust was fined - Credit: Archant

A failure to manage asbestos safely has earned the health trust in charge of St Albans Hospital a £55,000 fine.

At St Albans Crown Court today (Tuesday) West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust, made up of Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead hospitals, was also ordered to pay costs of £34,078.65 to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The trust was sentenced after pleading guilty in June to five health and safety offences in relation to the management of asbestos at the three hospitals over a period in excess of 10 years. The charges included failing to have a written plan and taking measures to manage the risk from asbestos, or give adequate information, instruction and training to employees.

It was fined after it was found likely to have exposed workers to potentially fatal asbestos material between April 2000 and December 2011.

The Crown Court was told that over the 11-year period the trust had identified some of the asbestos at its sites, but did not have a management or monitoring plan in place to control the risks associated with the deadly fibre.

It was only when additional surveys were carried out in December 2011 that the trust realised more asbestos was present at all three hospitals.

The trust then alerted the HSE which investigated and brought a prosecution for health and safety breaches.

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After today’s sentencing HSE inspector Sandra Dias said employers had a duty to protect staff from long-term health risks associated with asbestos, which include lung cancer and mesothelioma.

She added: “As a result a number of emloyees will now have to spend the rest of their lives not knowing whether they have been exposed.”

Samantha Jones, chief executive, said while the charges concerned events pre-dating her appointment she took “full responsibility on behalf of the trust board for the failures that led to the prosecution.

“Asbestos is common in buildings of the age of our hospitals, but the court found the trust had not taken its responsibilities as seriously as it should have done, and for that I apologise.”

Ms Jones said: “We have made significant changes in recent years to the way we manage and control asbestos, ensuring the risk of exposure is at the lowest level possible.”

The trust recently removed a “significant” amount of asbestos after undertaking new surveys to show where the fibre is located across all three sites.

Ms Jones added: “We have invested heavily in the safe removal and management of asbestos. Since 2012 we have spent almost £1.6 million and we plan to spend a further £500,000 over the course of this year.”

Around 4,500 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.