Asbestos in Waltham Forest Town Hall: LBWF CEO Martin Esom answers the criticisms…sort of

On 1 July just passed, LBWF CEO Martin Esom e-mailed his response to the various points that I recently raised with him about asbestos in the Town Hall and the Assembly Hall (see his e-mail pasted below, and links to my correspondence at the bottom of the page).

Mr. Esom is extravagantly paid and also on the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Board, and so it is a reasonable expectation that he will answer residents’ inquiries about asbestos in full and definitively.

However, here, he disappoints, favouring bland generalisations while disregarding specific issues.

LBWF has been following ‘a management plan for asbestos’, he advises. And when removal of asbestos has occurred, it’s been done safely and with due regard to the regulations.

But nowhere does he justify LBWF’s contention as expressed in the course of a 2019 civil action that members of the public visiting the two sites never have been exposed to danger.

And, similarly, he ignores what is really the 64-million-dollar question, which is why it was that, after the 2015 court case when LBWF was found guilty of exposing staff and contractors at the Town Hall to asbestos, and then fined, the remediation that followed was so limited that a fresh survey in 2020 pinpointed at least 100 locations where ‘high priority/risk’ and ‘medium priority/risk’ asbestos remained in place, even in its most dangerous form, ‘debris to floor’.

It is possible that Mr. Esom believes that he can pick and choose in this way because his bona fides are so unimpeachable.

No doubt his professed ‘absolute commitment’ to keep staff and visitors safe is sincere.

However, that said, in truth his historical record over asbestos is unimpressive.

Thus, his evidence to the court in 2015 left much to be desired (see links below) and indeed ended up being, at key points, comprehensively rejected by the presiding judge. 

Moreover, when the HSE successfully prosecuted LBWF’s ‘asbestos advisor’ NPS London Ltd. in 2017 for the unsafe removal of asbestos at St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Walthamstow five years earlier, Mr. Esom again had a less than satisfactory involvement, since when the offence occurred, he was not just LBWF CEO, and so ultimately responsible for instructing NPS London Ltd., but also (according to Companies House) a director on the latter’s board. 

Finally, Mr. Esom must take at least a degree of responsibility for the fact that, in the near future, current and ex-staff who have contracted asbestosis while at work may claim, and probably win, substantial damages. Recent legal proceedings of this type resulted in a c. £300,000 pay out, and in significant part revolved around evidence presented at the 2015 hearing. Similar cases are scheduled to follow. All are human tragedies; all could have been avoided if LBWF had behaved properly.  

Against such a background, many will conclude that Mr. Esom’s comments to me are at best unbecoming, at worst a silly charade.

Mr. Esom’s e-mail of 1 July 2022

‘Dear Mr Tiratsoo,

Further to your correspondence dated 10th June and 24th June 2022, I want to emphasise my absolute commitment to the wellbeing of Council staff. It is extremely important to me that all staff come to work in a place they feel welcome, safe and secure. This also applies to any visitors to buildings for which the Council is responsible.

It should be noted that asbestos exists in millions of buildings in the UK and does not necessarily expose building users to harmful contact from asbestos fibres. Asbestos fibres become an issue if asbestos is not managed in line with HSE guidance, is not adequately encapsulated, monitored and, where necessary, removed in accordance with regulatory requirements.  

During the period you have referred to in your last email (dated 24th June), we have had a management plan for asbestos.  Where works have been undertaken to remove and/or make safe areas where asbestos exists appropriate measures have been taken.  These measures included: the restriction of access to staff and the public in areas where works were taking place; informing staff about the works; and clear signage and barriers put in place to prevent access to those areas by staff and/or visitors. 

The refurbishment survey on the Town Hall undertaken in 2020 (which you have referred to at some length in your emails) was undertaken prior to the works being carried out for the Town Hall refurbishment.  This survey was designed to specifically identify where removal of asbestos was required in order for the intrusive refurbishment works to be completed safely with regular air monitoring being carried out during this period and air clearance being confirmed.    

I have asked Stewart Murray, Strategic Director of Place, to respond to any further correspondence on this matter.

Yours sincerely, 

…Martin Esom

Chief Executive’ 

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