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Asbestos Exposure - Breach of Prohibition Notice Leads to Director Disqualifications

Karen Jones

Partner Karen Jones, in our Planning & Environmental law team, examines a recent case involving Asbestos exposure and a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency (EA).

Three directors of a company, which went into liquidation in 2016, were fortunate to escape custodial sentences after entering guilty pleas to charges brought against them following a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency. The Directors have been sentenced at Stoke Crown Court after a series of “appalling” failures, exposing the public and the environment to Asbestos.

The two-year joint investigation into Alsager Contractors concerned waste management at three sites run by the company in Lancashire and Staffordshire over a period of two years. A complaint was made that there was burning of waste and Asbestos dust at one site, resulting in the investigation.  Investigation inspections revealed open skips on the Defendant’s sites containing Asbestos. Tests were undertaken around a site revealing that from 42 samples taken 36 contained Asbestos.

In May 2012 the HSE served Alsager with a Prohibition Notice.  This notice specifically related to six road-going ejector trailers found to contain  or be contaminated with Asbestos.   This Prohibition Notice prohibited work on the trailers (except decontamination work by a licensed Asbestos contractor) and was breached deliberately when a door was cut into a trailer to access it.  Following this discovery, the environmental permit for the site in question was suspended by the EA and subsequently revoked.

The shocking disregard for handling of Asbestos waste was noted at the Court sentencing hearing when the Court was told that “bags containing Asbestos waste were loaded into skips using a mechanical loader and then crushed down, so creating the risk that the bags would split and the potentially carcinogenic contents released as large volumes of dust.”

The Court noted that there had been a flagrant breach of the Prohibition Notice.  It was clear the company had not heeded warnings regarding the handling of Asbestos and the Court noted that the company continued to create risks and deliberately disregarded the Prohibition Notice. The court heard that the Directors knew of the hazards of handling Asbestos waste and ignored warnings from the authorities to rectify the problems.

The court found that two of the company directors at the time knew of and failed to prevent work being undertaken which contravened the Prohibition Notice.  All three directors of the company were found to have known about waste containing Asbestos and were charged with treating, keeping or disposing of that waste which could cause pollution or harm to human health.  The offences potentially exposed workers to Asbestos as well as polluting the environment and the defendants displayed a continuous disregard for the laws and regulation around managing Asbestos waste.

The three Defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced to disqualification as directors for a period ranging from 7 years to 4 years with fines imposed up to £46,500 for five offences to which the main protagonist pleaded guilty. Charges were laid against them under sections 33(1)(c) 33(6) and 157(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Section 22 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulations 12(1)(a) and 38(1)(b) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

 The Court felt itself constrained by the sentencing guidelines and failed to impose custodial sentences but this case underlines the commitment of the HSE and EA to ensure that flagrant breaches of the law are punished appropriately.  The sentences were imposed on the 9 July. The three defendants were also ordered to repay costs of £200,000 in total in addition to the fines imposed.

For more information or legal advice, please Karen Jones or a member of our team.

This blog article was first published in the Waste Planning Magazine.

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.