Company fined €50k over workers’ asbestos exposure

A Cork company has been fined €50,000 for exposing workers to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres during demolition works at an office building in Mallow.

At Cork Circuit Criminal Court, Leeside Cut & Core Contractors, of Blackhill, Fivemile Bridge, Ballinhassig, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to two charges.

The first was that between January 21 and February 6, 2015, at an office building at Gould’s Hill, Mallow, Co Cork, it failed to ensure the safety, health, and welfare at work of employees.

This was because it failed to manage the demolition work at the premises in circumstances where there were asbestos-containing materials present and that demolition work was being carried out in an uncontrolled fashion causing damage to the asbestos-containing ceiling tiles and floor tiles on the premises, thereby exposing employees to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres. 

The second plea of guilty was to the related charge of failing to carry out a risk assessment.

Leeside Cut & Core Contractors pleaded guilty to two counts related to the asbestos and was fined at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said: “This is quite an alarming case. There is nobody — be that judge or labourer — who is not aware of the dangers of being exposed to or working with asbestos.

“Yet this company in a cut and core job carried on nonchalantly in the presence of asbestos. Asbestos dust is known about. 

"It is not one of these hidden dangers. It is on the ceiling [marked asbestos tiles] and all this dust is on the floor and they started driving diggers on it.”

Cian Cotter, defending, accepted employees and directors of the company stayed on site after being alerted to the presence of asbestos but said they only did so to make the site safe for those commissioned to remove the asbestos.

The judge said he found the level of disregard “mind-boggling”.

HSA inspector, Tom O’Sullivan, testified that the agency received confidential information about work taking place at the office building.

He said it was built in the 1970s and that a building of that vintage would have asbestos. 

He said there was a considerable amount of debris and it should have been apparent to workers there that there was asbestos as the ceiling tiles had an identifying asbestos marking.

“Once they became aware of asbestos, they should have stopped their work,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

Mr Cotter said their job was to remove partition walls and not to interfere with ceiling tiles. 

He said employees were informed about the presence of asbestos; they were directed not to interfere with the ceiling tiles and were given gloves and masks. 

He said when the HSA told them it was a high-risk premises, the defendant company fully co-operated in every way and complied with all requirements of them.

The judge said if €5,000 was paid within a year, an application could be made to pay the remainder of the fine on an annual basis over 10 years.

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