Workers at Rochdale re-upholstery firm exposed to airborne asbestos fibres for five years

A re-upholstery company from Rochdale has been fined in a prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after its workplace safety failings were found to have caused workers to potentially be exposed to asbestos fibres for as long as five years.
Minshull Street Crown Court was told on January 17th that Mansfield Soft Furnishings Ltd and company director David Mansfield had failed to ensure the health and safety of employees.

As many as 30 people could have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibres while working at Meadowcroft Mill, which is on Bury Road.
The court was told that Mansfield Soft Furnishings Ltd, which refurbishes furniture for hotels, restaurants and pubs, moved into the premises during September 2007, and while it was there, it developed a mezzanine storage facility in the roof's eaves.
On June 2012, a HSE inspector visited the company and noticed that some of the materials on the mezzanine roof appeared to be sprayed asbestos, and looked like it was in a poor condition. The inspector discovered that Mansfield had not ensured that an asbestos survey was performed, although employees had said they were worried the potentially lethal material might have been present. He gave the company an Improvement Notice.

Mansfield arranged for the asbestos survey to be conducted, and this survey revealed that asbestos was in the roof. Furthermore, workers had been placing furniture foam in the storage area, and had been dragging this across the eaves and dropping this on the floor, releasing deadly airborne asbestos fibres. These fibres had been spread all over the building when workers had taken foam out of the facility and moved it through the workplace.

The company was then handed a Prohibition Notice on July 10th 2012. This banned all work from inside the building until it had been properly decontaminated and the asbestos workplace safety risk had been addressed. Nonetheless, later that day at around 20:00, Mansfield entered the premises with another worker and removed furniture that was worth around £25,000, so they could deliver this furniture to a client. As a result, they breached the Prohibition Notice.

Mr Mansfield, of Heywood's Northolt Fold, was fined £10,000 after admitting a deliberate breach of the Prohibition Notice. Mansfield Soft Furnishings Ltd pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 - namely, failing to comply with the terms of the Prohibition Notice and failing to ensure workers' welfare, health and safety.
As co-defendants, both parties were also told to pay joint court costs of £20,000.

Every year, around 4,000 people lose their lives as a result of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres, suffering a range of lung diseases. This makes asbestos the UK's leading cause of employment-related deaths.

Mansfield Soft Furnishing Ltd's employers will now know they face the possibility of developing a fatal lung disease due to their employer's negligence. The consequences of the company's breaches of health and safety law could therefore be far more damaging to the firm than the fines and costs it has to pay.

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Geek, H. 2014, Workers at Rochdale re-upholstery firm exposed to airborne asbestos fibres for five years.

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