Sunderland furniture firm fined £3,000 after workers were exposed to asbestos

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A FAMILY-RUN furniture firm has been fined £3,000 after two workers were exposed to asbestos.

The offence happened when employees with Interior Designs (NE), based in Station Road, Fulwell, Sunderland, removed plasterboard from a garage ceiling and transported it outside to a van on January 10 this year.

Magistrates were told that, after the work started, one of the workers, Graham Cleghorn, became suspicious that the dust from the plasterboard was “rather sharp and spiky” and warned his colleague Paul Bell of his concerns.

They immediately stopped the work.

The area – in Cleadon Village, South Tyneside – was sealed off and a licensed asbestos contractor was called to removed the debris – which was confirmed to be asbestos after analysis.

The company admitted contravening a health and safety regulation. It was fined £3,000, with a £120 victims surcharge and £168 costs.

Keith Partington, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, told South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court that the firm failed to carry out the required checks for asbestos before work started.

Mark Balysz, defending, said the offence was “born entirely of ignorance” and that the firm’s managing director, Janice McBeth, was a person of “impeccable good character”.

He said: “Interior Designs regrets the commission of this offence, but the director is a person of good character and this is the company’s first offence.

“This was an offence born entirely of ignorance. That is not to denigrate or under-estimate the need for asbestos controls, but it must be appreciated that Mr Cleghorn is Janice McBeth’s own son.

“He will now have to wait for 20, 30 or even 40 years before he knows whether he will suffer any ill-effects from this.”

Graham Cleghorn pleaded not guilty to a separate charge of contravening a health and safety regulation. His case will be heard at Newcastle Crown Court on December 10.

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Authority said asbestos-related ill-health was well documented across the UK – with some victims waiting for decades before the impact on their health was known.