A North East glass firm has been fined £20,000 with costs of £12,638, after potentially exposing around 200 workers and visitors to dangerous asbestos fibres.

Consett-based Romag Ltd also ignored recommendations from its own safety team to cordon off a contaminated area and arrange for an emergency clean-up by specialists. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the accident, which was triggered by two fire alarm installers when they started working at the firm's Princess Building, on Leadgate Industrial Estate in July 2011.

The two subcontractors had been told the building was asbestos free and unknowingly drilled through an asbestos insulation panel when they were installing fire sensors. They then used a domestic vacuum cleaner to clean up the dust and debris, and later used it in several other parts of the building, spreading asbestos around the premises.

The asbestos disturbance was discovered the next day, but Romag failed to take any appropriate action for nine days, even though they had been instructed to act immediately. The delay led to 180 workers and 16 visitors being put at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.

HSE Inspector Paul Miller said, “Romag Ltd needlessly put at risk the health of nearly 200 people because they failed to identify the presence of asbestos before any work started and then compounded the failing by not acting quickly to clean the area properly. Any company that intends to do work to the fabric of a property built prior to the year 2000 must ensure that they have taken all reasonable steps to check whether asbestos is present before any work starts. That information must be then shared with anyone involved in the proposed work.”

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