An academy trust has been fined £35,000 for failing to manage asbestos and ensure the safety of builders working at a Medway school.
Representatives from the Williamson Trust pleaded guilty at Medway Magistrates Court - where it was heard asbestos had been uncovered during work at the Hundred of Hoo Academy, one of the trust’s schools, in 2012.
Facing the same charge was Mark Tucker, 51, director of MT & Sons Ltd, the firm contracted to carry out the work, who also pleaded guilty and was fined £17,000.
Exposure to asbestos can cause the deadly disease mesotheliomia, of which there is a high incident rate in Medway, due mainly to its industrial past.
The court heard how a “last minute change of plan” during work had led builders to remove some panels around a series of skylights in the English, humanities and media block during school holidays.
It was only the next day they realised that the panels were asbestos, and closed the building.
Barrister Mike Forster, representing the trust, said there was a failure of management on the part of the school caretaker.
“He should have said ‘this is a change of plan, we need to find out what’s in these panels’ but he didn’t. The work continued and the panels were removed.”
Mr Forster added: “He had training in 2005 so he should have realised. Why he didn’t think to stop the work is a mystery.
“It’s regrettable, it won’t happen again and the trust are very sorry that it has happened.”
However he pointed to evidence from an expert witness Martin Steer, who said the risk of harmful exposure in the case was very low.
In mitigation he pointed out it was one isolated incident, no one had been injured and the period of risk had been short.
John Roberts, representing Mr Tucker, echoed much of the mitigation, and said his client had had an excellent safety record over 40 years.
Magistrates said they found the trust’s culpability was greater than Mr Tucker’s, and fined both parties accordingly.
A spokesman for the Williamson Trust said it regretted the incident, but added: “An expert’s report presented to the court said the risk of exposure to the small number of people on site at the time was very low to insignificant.
“It’s regrettable, it won’t happen again and the trust are very sorry that it has happened" - Mike Forster
"It is also important to point out this work was carried out during school holidays when no children and teaching staff were at school.
“We have learned from this experience and as well as co-operating fully with the Health and Safety Executive during this case, have improved, robust and effective safety procedures in place to ensure this isolated incident is not repeated.
“The school spent a considerable sum in 2012 to ensure the affected area was cleared.”
The Williamson Trust was founded by Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Rochester, in 2011.
As well as the Math School and Hundred of Hoo, the trust manages four primary schools.