Two companies have been prosecuted after workers were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres at a mill in Bolton.
The Health & Safety Executive took legal action against Hazelwise and RH Property Management after finding dozens of damaged asbestos boards stacked up at Brownlow Mill during a visit on 20 October 2010.
Manchester Crown Court heard on Friday that neither company put a plan in place to manage the asbestos in the mill on Tennyson Street, where several small businesses rent units.
HSE became aware of the issue when a contractor on the site raised concerns that asbestos insulation boards had been stripped out of unoccupied floors at the mill, releasing potentially deadly asbestos fibres into the air.
Inspectors issued two Prohibition Notices banning the removal of tools and other items from four floors of the mill in case they had become contaminated with asbestos fibres, and preventing access to the floors.
They also found that asbestos was present in other parts of the mill, occupied by tenants, but nothing had been done to protect it and make sure it was safe.
The court was told the letting agent, RH Property Management, had raised the issue of the lack of an asbestos assessment in 2006 but did not take any further action. The owner of the mill, Hazelwise, also failed to arrange for an asbestos survey to be carried out.
Both companies pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for failing to ensure the health and safety of people at the mill. Hazelwise also admitted a breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 by failing to properly assess the risks from asbestos at the site.
Hazelwise, of Mauldeth Avenue in Chorlton, was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £8,969 in prosecution costs. RH Property Management, of Greek Street in Stockport, was fined £15,000 and with costs of £11,011.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Philip Strickland said: "Workers at Brownlow Mill have been exposed to potentially deadly fibres because neither company did anything to find out where asbestos was on the site.
"It is a legal requirement for owners and letting agents of commercial properties to carry out an assessment as to whether asbestos is present in a building, and what action is needed to keep it safe.
"If employers don't take the risks from asbestos seriously, then thousands of people will continue to die in the UK every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres."
Asbestos boards were commonly used up until the 1980s to help insulate buildings, to build partition walls and as ceiling tiles. The boards 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.