Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 15:00 UK

Council fined over asbestos case

The block of flats
The flats were sealed off after the asbestos disturbance in 2007

Fife Council has been fined £10,000 after 12 flats had to be evacuated when contractors disturbed brown asbestos while replacing water tanks.

Contractors moved the brown asbestos at a block of flats in Fraser Avenue, Inverkeithing, in November 2007.

At Dunfermline Sheriff Court, builder ECG Building Maintenance, was fined £3,700.

Both fines were discounted for earlier guilty pleas by both Fife Council and ECG Building Maintenance.

Sheriff Ian Dunbar said "the major share of responsibility" fell with the council because it had details of different parts of the block on two records.

Builders were unaware he said of the asbestos as flat details were on a computer system while attic records were on written logs.

In view of the council's previous experience of managing asbestos, this was a very disappointing incident
Alastair Brown
Health and Safety Executive

Sheriff Dunbar said: "It seems to me from all that was said that the major share of responsibility for this unfortunate incident must lie with Fife Council.

"At the time there were two separate registers kept of properties where there may have been asbestos.

"There was a computerised record for domestic properties and a written record for non-domestic properties and common areas.

"Therefore while individual flats in the block may have appeared on a computerised record, the attic area being common would appear only in a written record.

"The council simply did not alert ECG to the fact that there may have been asbestos in any of these blocks of flats."

Investigations at the scene
Many items including clothes and furnishings were destroyed

Alastair Brown, Health and Safety Executive inspector, said: "Fife Council failed to keep an understandable register of asbestos and failed to ensure that a full survey for asbestos was carried out prior to any work starting, so the information available was not sufficient to alert persons to the immediate danger from the asbestos prior to the work beginning.

"In view of the council's previous experience of managing asbestos, this was a very disappointing incident.

"The effects of exposure to asbestos fibres can take as long as 20 to 30 years to manifest themselves, and over 4,000 people are dying every year in Great Britain due to the unrecognised exposure to asbestos earlier in their working lives."

Legislation came into force in May 2004 which requires the organisation in control of any non domestic premises, or the common parts on domestic premises, to identify and assess asbestos in those premises.

Head of Housing and Neighbourhoods Derek Muir said: "Lessons have been learnt as a result of what happened in Fraser Avenue. We have fully reviewed our policies and procedures in order to prevent a repetition of it. "

Brian Goodall chairman of Fife Council's housing and communities committee said: "This was a very serious and traumatic incident for the tenants concerned who had and who still have our full sympathy for what happened to them."

Derek Muir, Fife Council head of housing and neighbourhoods, said: "Lessons have been learnt as a result of what happened in Fraser Avenue.

"We have fully reviewed our policies and procedures in order to prevent a repetition of it.

"All the tenants involved have since either been re-housed or returned to Fraser Avenue.

"They have also all been fully compensated for their material losses although we accept nothing can compensate properly for the upset and disturbance they went through."



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