HEALTH bosses have been fined thousands of pounds after workers were exposed to asbestos.
Contractors carrying out work at Sunderland Eye Infirmary, in Queen Alexandra Road, unwittingly disturbed the dangerous fibres, which can cause cancer, a court was told.
Although an asbestos survey had been carried out at the hospital, which opened in 1946, vital information was not passed to workmen.
City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Trust was fined £3,000 after admitting one offence under the Asbestos Regulations 2006.
Head of estates Bob Allport entered a guilty plea on behalf of the trust at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court yesterday, in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Chairman of the bench Craig Tuthill said there had been a breakdown in communication between the trust’s estates department and contractors, adding: “It could have caused harm to both workers and patients at the hospital.”
The court was told how contractors drilled through door surrounds on a ward to install cables over the weekend of March 24 and 25 last year.
A member of staff raised concerns the next day and it was confirmed that the door surrounds were made of asbestos insulating board.
A HSE investigation found a survey carried out by the Trust clearly showed asbestos in the door surrounds.
But despite several site meetings with contractors USS, no information on the location or condition of any asbestos was passed on.
The court heard the insulating board does not pose a risk to health unless it is damaged or worked on, but drilling it could cause deadly fibres to be released into the air.
Inhaling asbestos fibres over a long period of time can cause diseases including lung cancer.
Magistrates ordered the health trust to pay more than £4,582 in court costs, plus a £15 surcharge towards work with victims of crime.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Shuna Rank said: “This incident was entirely preventable and highlights the importance of having a robust asbestos management system in place.
“City Hospitals Sunderland had put considerable resources into identifying where asbestos was in the hospital buildings but failed to have efficient procedures in place to ensure the information was passed to the contractors.
“As a result, workers drilled through the asbestos-containing material, potentially exposing themselves, hospital staff and members of the public to dangerous fibres.
“There need to be systems in place to ensure that all workers are aware of where asbestos is if their work is likely to bring them into contact with asbestos-containing materials.”
A spokesman for the hospital trust said: “The trust has comprehensive procedures to manage the asbestos in its various buildings, but unfortunately due to a last-minute change in plan for this particular project, the procedures were not fully implemented. Systems have been put in place to make sure that such an incident will not occur in the future.
“In the meantime, the trust would like to emphasise that the tests carried out after the incident for any airborne particles were all satisfactory.”