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Written by
on 20 April 2017

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Volunteer-based organisations and the asbestos threat

Asbestos_SurveyingAsbestos is a constant danger – particularly in older buildings. So it was little surprise when the substance was found in a partition wall at the Valleys cinema in Brynmawr, Wales.

Built in 1894, the cinema is now run by a group of volunteers as The Market Hall Cinema and Arts Trust. When dangerous levels of asbestos were discovered in November 2016, the Trust was issued with a prohibition notice, restricting access to the building.

A have a go hero

With general access forbidden, the Trust was concerned about the future of the cinema – no public film screenings meant no money was being generated to cover the upkeep of the building. Which gave one keen volunteer an idea.

Figuring that the job needed to be done quickly and cheaply, an unnamed individual set about dismantling the wall unaided. The party wall was taken down, broken into pieces and stored in black bags in the building awaiting disposal.

To the Trust and the volunteer, this must have seemed like the perfect solution to the HSE’s prohibition notice. The asbestos had been removed – and at no cost at all.

The HSE is not impressed

A follow-up visit by HSE inspectors uncovered what had happened – creating, even more, problems for The Market Hall Cinema and Arts Trust. A further notice was then issued by the HSE, outlining a number of criticisms, including:

  • Allowing the removal work to go ahead without checking if the volunteer had the appropriate qualifications to handle asbestos safely.
  • Asbestos waste was left in the building after removal.
  • The local council’s asbestos management plan had been ignored when carrying out the work.
  • The Trust failed to conduct refurbishment and demolition surveys for the work undertaken.

The main concern is that by dismantling the wall, volunteers and the general public may have been exposed to asbestos dust. And the fact that the material containing asbestos was left on the site further increased the risk of exposure.

Fortunately for the Trust, the HSE has decided not to take any further action – reserving the right to do so should any further infringements be discovered.

A warning for all trusts and volunteer-led organisations

Although no one at The Market Hall Cinema and Arts Trust set out to do anything wrong, lives have been placed in danger. At the very least, one over-enthusiastic volunteer may have exposed themselves to incredibly dangerous asbestos dust.

Through this case, Brynmawr’s community cinema has demonstrated just how important it is to make proper provisions for dealing with asbestos on site. There are no exceptions – your organisation must follow industry best practice guidelines for the safe management and disposal of asbestos.

And if that means paying for a fully qualified consultant to perform an audit and to carry out the removal, so be it.

In this case, the Trust seems to have been lucky – investigations suggest that no one has been hurt, and the HSE has not taken any further action. But not every organisation may experience such good fortune.

To ensure your buildings are assessed and managed properly – and your volunteers are properly protected – give Veritas Consulting a call today to discuss our asbestos survey services and how we can help.

About 

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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