Waltham Forest council in London has been fined for failing to manage asbestos and exposing employees and contractors to the potentially lethal substance.
The hazardous material was identified in a survey commissioned by the council in 2002.
But Southwark Crown Court found it failed to take adequate action to act on the findings and put effective controls in place. As a result, employees and contractors were allowed to carry on working in the basement of Walthamstow townl hall, putting their lives and health at risk.
The court heard that Waltham Forest had no plan in place for managing the well-known risks of asbestos and that there was an inadequate system in place for inspecting asbestos at the town hall.
Waltham Forest Borough Council pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. It was fined a total of £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,862 in costs.
UNISON branch officer Dave Knight said: “Given the seriousness of the potential health risks to employees and contractors, this is a paltry fine, but we recognise that any payment will have to come from the public purse.
“This is a matter of criminal negligence on the part of the council as an employer and there should be some real accountability when serious, life threatening breaches of health and safety legislation occur.”
UNISON branch health and safety officer Bill Palmer added: “The unions here have been on at the council about asbestos management for as long as I can remember, and if they had listened to the unions then all of this could have been avoided.”