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Mesothelioma Lawyer - Article - Firm Fined for Asbestos Risk

Posted on Feb 02, 2006 | Eveningnews24.co.uk

Firm Fined for Asbestos Risk

A factory where 200 people worked was yesterday branded a "Jekyll and Hyde operation" for endangering the lives of employees by ignoring pleas to remove potentially-lethal asbestos.

Egg carton manufacturer Omni Pac UK , which was shut down in 2003, was ordered to pay £136,000 at Norwich Crown Court after it admitted breaching two counts of health and safety policy.

It had earlier pleaded guilty to failing to protect the health of employees and failing to protect the health of non-employees - with its representative in court admitting managers had "taken their eye off the ball".

The court heard that factory bosses ignored successive demands by maintenance workers to remove the killer substance - instead making employees stand on top of asbestos-laden machinery.

They had to sweep asbestos dust off machinery, where lagging had split open revealing the material - which causes painful and incurable diseases such as mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the chest.

Workers were not instructed to take safety precautions such as wearing masks or gloves, and were never told that levels of exposed asbestos in the factory had reached dangerous levels.

The court was shown pictures of the factory, showing rubble piled high, lagging on the 1950s-built plant crumbling badly and debris covering the floor. All contained dangerous levels of asbestos.

Richard Matthews, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), described how concerns were first raised by senior plant engineer Michael James in 1993.

"Mr James said that as early as 1993 he had expressed concern during plant safety committee meetings about the damage to asbestos-containing insulation that arose from employees standing on the tops of driers to remove dust and debris," he said.

"In August 1997 there was an explosion on a machine that Mr James believes focused his mind on asbestos.

Mr Matthews went on to describe how a series of plant workers had provided evidence as to how they were made to work closely with the asbestos for a number of years without protection.

Packer Anthony Eland would use wire brushes to scrape asbestos-laden lagging, and was never given any warning or told to take precautions when dealing with the material.

Others described receiving express assurances that material within the plant was safe and posed no danger.

The whistle was finally blown when asbestos surveyor Glen White, of Microtec Air, carried out sampling in the factory in October 2003, and described it as "the worst working factory he had ever seen in the British Isles ".

Mr Jacobs fined the company, owned by American-based multinational Pactiv, £25,000 for each breach and £86,000 costs, totalling £136,000, to be paid within 28 days.

Outside court, Omni Pac spokesman Peter Jermy said he hoped the sentencing would provide some closure to former workers.

"We are very pleased the process is now over and we accept the sentence of the court," he said.

But Ivan Crane, regional organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents many Omni Pac employees, said the fine was not enough.

"The fine has to be weighed against the possible long-term effects on those that were employed at the factory," he said.

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