A MULTI-million pound company exposed dozens of factory workers to potentially deadly asbestos fibres near Chester.
GrowHow UK has been fined £60,000 after about 50 workers were exposed to asbestos fibres which could cause lung cancer or fatal mesothelioma in later life.
Asbestos was discovered during the refurbishment of a 50m tall industrial furnace at the Ince Marshes fertiliser plant on January 31, 2011.
Growhow UK was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation which found the firm failed to carry out an appropriate asbestos survey before allowing the project to start, despite the fact that the demolition work was likely to create large amounts of dust.
Chester Crown Court heard that contractors had been demolishing brickwork and insulation boards for two days, using hammers, chisels and crow bars, before a bricklayer raised concerns that asbestos may be present.
This was confirmed when material from the site was taken for analysis.
Workers had been breaking up rubble, putting it into sacks and pouring it down a chute so the sacks could be reused, without knowing the dust they were creating may have contained asbestos fibres.
Once asbestos was discovered, the workers were ordered to leave the site and all of their protective clothing and equipment was bagged up and destroyed due to the risk of contamination.
GrowHow UK, which employs about 500 people at the plant, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £17,094 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to one breach of the control of asbestos regulations 2006 and two breaches of the health and safety at work act.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Daniel Longdon said: “Dozens of workers at GrowHow were exposed to potentially deadly fibres because the company didn’t carry out a risk assessment to see if asbestos was present in the industrial furnace.
“They will have to live with the uncertainty for the rest of their lives of not knowing whether they will develop lung cancer or other diseases, such as mesothelioma, as a result.
“If GrowHow had arranged a proper survey ahead of the work starting then the asbestos would have been identified and a licensed contractor could have been brought in to remove it safely.”
Around 4,000 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.
Asbestos fibres breathed in can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract, and can lead to lung cancer or other diseases. Symptoms may not appear for several decades.