Neath Magistrates’ Court heard the project was badly managed, with untrained staff put in charge of the operation, and was underpinned by inadequate surveys for the presence of asbestos and poor planning throughout.
Engineering firm Wall Colmonoy Ltd had contracted Oaktree Construction to renovate a building opposite its premises in Pontardawe, Swansea, in December 2010.
The engineering firm had two asbestos management surveys for the site which identified the presence of the material.
Despite this, work was allowed to begin in the building, even though Oaktree had been advised by the HSE that a separate ‘Refurbishment and Demolition Survey’ was also required before any activity commenced.
During the demolition works an asbestos insulation board covering a steel column was damaged.
A Wall Colmonoy employee was told to tape plastic bags around it while work continued for several months with the board debris left on the floor until an unannounced visit was carried out by an HSE inspector.
A subsequent HSE investigation found that Wall Colmonoy failed to appoint a competent Construction, Design and Management co-ordinator and principal contractor to plan and manage the construction work.
The firm also ignored advice from its own health and safety manager to notify HSE of the demolition phase of the project, as is required by law.
Wall Colmonoy also failed to provide a proper assessment of the presence of asbestos and no-one involved in the management of the project had the skills, training or experience to address health and safety issues.
The HSE investigation also found that Oaktree failed to prevent the exposure of its employees to asbestos, and failed to control its spread once it had been damaged.
Wall Colomony, of Pontardawe, was fined a total of £16,000 after pleading guilty to safety breaches while Oaktree of Trebanos, was fined £8,000.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector, Anne Marie Orrells said: “Both companies involved in this case demonstrated significant failings throughout the management of the project, which put the lives of their respective workers at risk.
“Demolition and refurbishment work must be properly planned and managed by competent personnel with the right training and experience.
“Proper structural and asbestos surveys must be made and a full risk assessment carried out for all the work to be undertaken.
“Had a Refurbishment and Demolition survey been undertaken, and had a licensed asbestos contractor been used to removal all asbestos materials prior to the work starting, then the risk would have been eliminated.
“Instead this inadequate response left workers exposed to asbestos fibres, which can cause potentially fatal lung disease. The health and safety of workers must not be left to chance.”