Heavy fines and prison sentences for company and directors failing to protect workers from asbestos risk

18 May 2022

Ensure Asbestos Management Ltd, an asbestos management company, has been fined and two of its employees have been jailed for failing to protect workers from asbestos exposure during a major refurbishment project in Plymouth.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that in February 2017, concerns were raised by workers at the company who believed they were being put in danger while carrying out refurbishment work at a former department store.

Investigating Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officers found irregularities in the asbestos surveys and clearance certificates, with some of them found to be fraudulent.

Ensure Asbestos Management had been contracted to carry out an asbestos survey, remove all identified asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) from the building and then carry out the initial strip-out of the building before it was refurbished. However, the company was found to have deliberately cut corners in managing the danger of asbestos exposure putting workers at risk.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching ss.2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) and was fined £100,000. In addition, Billy Hopwood, a director of Ensure Asbestos Management, pleaded guilty to breaching the same sections of HSWA; he was sentenced to 10 months in prison and has been disqualified from being a director for five years. Contracts manager Phillip Hopwood pleaded guilty to breaching ss.2(1), 3(1) and 33(1)(m) of HSWA and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and disqualified from being a director for 10 years.

The prosecution follows the recent call from MPs for a strategy to remove all asbestos from public and commercial buildings within 40 years.

Asbestos remains the biggest cause of work-related fatalities in the UK with more than 5000 deaths in 2019 including from cancers such as mesothelioma, and despite being banned more than two decades ago.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Georgina Symons said Ensure Asbestos Management Ltd “failed to work within the law despite having a wealth of knowledge on the risks associated with exposure to asbestos and the necessary training to have done so safely. They deliberately falsified documents and cut corners.

“Workers should be supported by their employers when they raise health or safety concerns. This case sends a clear message that those responsible will be held to account for their failings.