Suspended jail terms after asbestos attacked with sledgehammers

Two men have received prison sentences after asbestos-containing materials were broken up with sledgehammers on a retail refurbishment scheme in Sunderland.

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

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

Both men were directors of York-based Keebar Construction in 2017, when concerns were raised about works at the former Joplings department store.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found “vast quantities” of asbestos in the building.

During several months of demolition and refurbishment work, materials containing the deadly substance had been broken up using sledgehammers and brute force, the watchdog discovered.

Asbestos fibres were spread across five floors of the building, as well as outside the city-centre property, Newcastle Crown Court was told. More than 1,300 square metres of contaminated waste was found across the shop floors and in the stairwell.

HSE inspector Phil Chester said after the hearing: “Asbestos is responsible for the premature deaths of over 5,000 people each year. Younger people, if routinely exposed to asbestos fibres are, over time, at greater risk of developing asbestos-related disease than older workers.

“Companies need to recognise the dangers of removing asbestos without appropriate safety measures, to their employees and members of the public.”

Keebar Construction appointed a liquidator in 2018.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, a construction company from the North West has been fined and its director sentenced to a community order of 200 hours of unpaid work, after workers disturbed asbestos during a refurbishment project.

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

During the project, asbestos pipe lagging was removed, and debris was spread across the site, and inside and around a skip in the yard.

The HSE found that removal work was carried out by five or six employees under the supervision of Salar Zardooi, the sole director of the company, instead of 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 ordered to pay costs of £2,133.45.

Salar Zardooi, 43, of Finney Lane, Heald Green in Cheadle, pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work and told 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 findings of the asbestos survey, and carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.

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

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

Illness related to the dangerous substance leads to 5,000 deaths per year, the committee said, representing “one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times”.

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