Serious health and safety failures on the part of a plumbing company have possibly caused two workers to become exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos fibres while working on a refurbishment project in a set of flats in Aberystwyth, Wales.

The workers, who were a subcontractor and a site manager, were not provided with the necessary information about the presence of asbestos before they started work on the flats between the months of November 2010 and February 2011.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the contractors had been carrying out the work on the property without any knowledge or regard for the fact that asbestos might have been present in the building materials. The workers had removed 82 metres of cement board, breaking it with a hammer and shovelling it into a wheelbarrow before depositing it into a waste skip. A survey identified the material as likely to contain asbestos. The contractors were also scheduled to perform the same work on two other properties, one of which had been confirmed to contain asbestos in its building materials.

Superior Plumbing, the supervising company, has been found guilty by the Health and Safety Executive of failing to obtain asbestos surveys for the properties to ascertain whether or not this dangerous material was present within the building. They had done nothing to assess the risk or to follow appropriate working procedures in the presence of asbestos. They should have hired a site manager for the project who had been given health and safety awareness training in regards to the proper handling of asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral which is used in commercial construction for its desirable physical properties. It was used in a number of buildings throughout the UK until its detrimental effects on health were realised and it was banned in the 1970s. When inhaled, the tiny asbestos fibres become lodged in the lungs and result in a type of cancer known as mesothelioma. When construction workers are exposed to asbestos on the job their risk of developing the disease increases dramatically.

Approximately 4,000 people per year in the UK die as a result of asbestos exposure, making it the leading cause of work related death.