A Preston demolition firm has been sentenced after knocking down a building in the Lake District containing hundreds of asbestos ceiling tiles, putting the lives of workers and local residents at risk.
IBT Contracting was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive after carrying out the work at a former photography factory in Staveley near Kendal during August and September 2011, despite not having a license to remove asbestos.
Kendal Magistrates' Court heard IBT had been given a survey by the owners of the site ahead of the work taking place, which stated that the building contained 1,782 sq ft of asbestos ceiling tiles.
But the company failed to arrange for a licensed contractor to remove the tiles safely, and instead released deadly asbestos fibres into the air during the building's demolition.
IBT Contracting pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, for removing asbestos without a licence, exposing workers to asbestos fibres, and allowing the fibres to spread to neighbouring areas.
The company, of Barton Lane in Barton near Preston, was fined £10,800 and ordered to pay £3,638.95 in prosecution costs on 20 March.
Allen Shute, investigating inspector at HSE, said: "This company put the lives of workers in danger by cutting corners, and not using a licensed contractor to safely remove the asbestos ceiling tiles.
"Several houses back onto the site of the factory so local residents were also put at risk, although luckily the level of their exposure to asbestos fibres is likely to have been relatively low.
"However, the workers on the site will now have to live with the knowledge that they may develop a deadly asbestos-related disease in the years to come because of the actions of IBT Contracting."
Asbestos was used in ceiling tiles up until the 1980s to help insulate buildings. The tiles only become dangerous if they are broken up and asbestos fibres are released into the air.
Fibres that are breathed in can become lodged in the lungs or digestive tract, and may lead to lung cancer or other diseases if large numbers of fibres are inhaled. However, symptoms may not appear for several decades.
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.
Regulation 8 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 states: "An employer shall not undertake any work with asbestos unless he holds a licence…" Regulation 11 states: "Every employer shall prevent the exposure of his employees to asbestos so far as is reasonably practicable." Regulation 16 states: "Every employer shall prevent or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduce to the lowest level reasonably practicable the spread of asbestos from any place where work under his control is carried out."