Suspended prison sentences after asbestos sledgehammer attack

Two men have been sentenced to prison after asbestos-containing material was smashed using sledgehammers as part of a shop refurbishment scheme in Sunderland.

Alan Barraclough, 51, of Hutton Lane in Guisborough, was sentenced to 14 months in jail, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid community work over the next year, suspended as director for a decade and ordered to pay costs of £44,774.21.

James Keegan, 65, of Larkspur Road, Middlesbrough, received an identical sentence after being found guilty of the same health and safety offences.

The pair were directors of York-based Keebar Construction in 2017 when concerns were raised over work at the former Joplings department store.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found ‘large amounts’ of asbestos in the building.

Over several months of demolition and renovation work, materials containing the deadly substance had been smashed using sledgehammers and brute force, the watchdog found.

Asbestos fibers were spread across five floors of the building, as well as outside the town center property, Newcastle Crown Court heard. More than 1,300 square meters of contaminated waste were found in the workshops and in the stairwell.

HSE Inspector Phil Chester said after the hearing: “Asbestos is responsible for the premature death of more than 5,000 people every year. Younger people, if regularly exposed to asbestos fibers, are, over time, more at risk of developing asbestos-related disease than older workers.

“Companies must recognize the dangers of removing asbestos without proper safety measures, for their employees and members of the public.”

Keebar Construction appointed a liquidator in 2018.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, a construction company in the North West has been fined and its manager given a community order of 200 hours of unpaid work, after workers disturbed asbestos during of a renovation project.

Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard that between May and June 2021, Cheadle-based Sal Construction Services were contracted to carry out work on student accommodation on Upper Brook Street in the city.

During the project, asbestos pipe lagging was removed and debris was strewn around the site and in and around a dumpster in the yard.

The HSE found that the asbestos removal work was carried out by five or six employees under the supervision of Salar Zardooi, the company’s sole manager, and not by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.

Sal Construction Services of Finney Lane, Heald Green in Cheadle, pleaded guilty to breaches of health and safety regulations and was fined £30,000 and costs £2,133.45.

Salar Zardooi, 43, of Finney Lane, Heald Green in Cheadle, pleaded guilty to breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Etc Act 1974. He was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £2,007.75.

HSE Inspector David Norton said after the hearing: ‘These risks could so easily have been avoided by acting on the results of the asbestos survey and applying the correct control measures and safe work.

“Companies should be aware that the HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those who fail to meet the required standards.”

Earlier this year, Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee urged the government to publish a clear strategy for the removal of asbestos from all non-residential buildings within 40 years.

Illnesses linked to the hazardous substance cause 5,000 deaths a year, the committee said, representing “one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times”.

Alice F. Ponder