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Waltham Forest fined £66,000 for putting employees at asbestos risk

Waltham Forest council has been fined a total of £66,000 for failing to manage asbestos which exposed members of staff and visiting contractors to the potentially lethal dangers of asbestos. 

The hazardous material, which the council knew was present in the Town Hall basement, was identified in a survey commissioned by the local authority in 2002, yet it failed to take adequate action to act on the findings and put effective controls in place. 

After pleading guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Control of Asbestos Regulations, the council was fined a total of £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs. 

In a statement, a Waltham Forest council spokesperson said: "We fully accept that the council should have done more in the past to manage the safety of our buildings. 

"Throughout this process we have taken the matter extremely seriously, and we have been working with the Health and Safety Executive to make sure that nothing like this happens in the future." 

Unison branch officer Dave Knight said that given the seriousness of the potential health risks to employees and contractors, it was “a paltry fine”, but he recognises that any payment will have to come from the public purse. 

"This is a matter of criminal negligence on the part of the council as an employer and there should be some real accountability when serious, life-threatening breaches of health and safety legislation occur,” he said. 

After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive inspector Chris Tilley said Waltham Forest was aware of the asbestos in the basement as far back as 1984. 

“It was also aware of the risks from asbestos exposure and of its duty to manage those risks,” added Tilley. “However, the authority singularly failed to do so over more than a decade. Over that period, an unquantifiable number of its own employees plus workers from maintenance companies and similar were regularly exposed to these hazards.”

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