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Dairy Crest and a Manchester-based welding company have been fined for exposing workers to asbestos and this could lead to compensation claims.
Plymouth Crown Court heard that a cloud of asbestos dust and fibres was released in May 2010 during work to remove industrial boilers and pipe working at a redundant Dairy Crest site near Totnes.
Dangerous substances sat in the affected area for a full 48 hours before a clean-up operation began and this meant that Dairy Crest and Rochdale Electric Welding Company (REWCO) were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Jurors at Plymouth Crown Court heard that Dairy Crest sold boilers from its unused plant in Totnes and had asked REWCO to dismantle the units so they could be transported before the site was fully demolished.
But there were failings on both sides, as Dairy Crest didn't carry out a suitable survey of asbestos material for a number of years and previous studies were not passed on to REWCO, who were judged to have not done their own due diligence on the project.
It was also discovered that three REWCO employees wearing no protective gear were contaminated with asbestos. While a small inhalation of the substance is often not harmful in the short-term, the HSE judged that the amount of fibres lining the men's lungs could cause them incurable lung diseases.
This leaves the staff members with uncertainty as to their medical future and they could attempt to claim asbestos compensation from their employer.
Both Dairy Crest and REWCO were heavily fined by Plymouth Crown Court, with total fines and costs coming in at £56,000.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Martin Lee commented: "There were clear failings by both companies to identify and properly manage and control the asbestos containing material before work started, and to provide appropriate protection for workers when it did.
"Regulations on dealing safely with asbestos have been in place for many years and are widely known in the industry."
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