A multi-million pound firm has been fined £60,000 by the Health and Safety executive (HSE) after around 50 workers were exposed to asbestos fibres.

The company failed to conduct a comprehensive survey to check for asbestos before refurbishment work began.

Fertiliser manufacturer GrowHow UK received the fine after an investigation revealed a failure to carry out a proper asbestos survey before starting work on a refurbishment project.

The discovery was made on 31 January 2011 during the refurbishment of an industrial furnace at the Ince Marshes fertiliser plant, two days after demolition has begun.

The contractors had been demolishing brickwork and insulation boards for two days, unaware the dust created as a result may have contained asbestos.

Chester Crown Court heard that after a bricklayer raised concerns that asbestos may be present, material was taken from the site for analysis.

Once its presence was confirmed, all workers were ordered to leave the site immediately and their protective clothing and equipment was bagged up and destroyed to prevent contamination.

Workers could develop lung cancer

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.”

The firm was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay a further £17,094 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to breaching the control of asbestos regulations 2006 and the health and safety act at work.

A comprehensive survey can save lives

Commenting on the case, Donna Hodge, a workplace accident specialist at Lampkin & Co Solicitors, said: “With 4,000 people dying every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, this is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

“Asbestos fibres can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract, potentially leading to lung cancer or other diseases such as fatal mesothelioma in later life.

“The asbestos could have been easily identified with a proper survey and the health of the contracted workers would have been safeguarded against potentially lethal threats.”

If an employer has breached their legal duty of care, you could be eligible to make a workplace accident claim.