The Health and Safety Executive censures one of LBWF’s contractors after finding a worker cleaning up dangerous dust from the Town Hall basement…with a broom

As might be predicted, knowing the revelations of the past, the more that emerges about LBWF’s recent attempts to deal with dangerous asbestos in the Town Hall, the dodgier the local authority looks.

Consider the following.

On 13 January 2020, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) informed LBWF that a complaint had been made about construction work in the Town Hall basement, which it summarised thus:

‘Drilling in the basement is causing a lot of brick dust to go out throughout the buildings, so much that it is setting off the fire alarms; and

With the presence of asbestos in the basement, there is risk to possible exposure to asbestos particles in the brick dust produced by the drilling’. 

Was LBWF in charge of the site, the HSE asked, or was it being run by a ‘principal contractor’?

By return, LBWF confirmed that a ‘principal contractor, ‘Purdy’s’ [Purdy Contracts Ltd.], was running the site; provided a contact name; and forwarded ‘a draft Management Procedures and Protocol document’ for comment. 

A day later, LBWF’s Head of Health and Safety, David Garioch, reassured the HSE further, reporting that an internal ‘Health and Safety Team’ investigation of the previous week ‘[had] not identified any asbestos issues, as the basement was fully stripped of Asbestos several years ago’.

On 17 January 2020, an HSE inspector wrote to Purdy Contracts Ltd. and explained that on a site visit prompted by the complaint they had identified ‘a contravention of health and safety law’, specifically the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

They elaborated:

‘During the visit an operative was observed dry sweeping concrete dust without wearing any respiratory protection which is a breach of the…regulations. Although I was shown an FP3 dusk mask you must ensure that you have procedures in place to ensure that workers wear the Respiratory Protective Equipment provided. Another operative was also observed dry sweeping concrete dust during the visit (although he was wearing a mask). I was informed…that water suppression was available but was not being used’.

The inspector warned that appropriate remedial action must be taken; informed Purdy Contracts Ltd. that it would have to pay the HSE a fee for breaking the law; and very specifically ordered that in future ‘M class dust extraction hoovers’ were to be used when cutting, drilling, and cleaning up.

And, as far as is known, there the matter rests.

So, in summary, it transpires that: 

a ‘Management Procedures and Protocol’ document remained in draft form well after the work had started;

an operative was found sweeping up concrete dust – that is silica – without wearing any respiratory protection;

water suppression was available but remained un-used; and

as a result, the LBWF contractor, Purdy Contracts Ltd., was found to be in breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

That in itself is hardly reassuring, and suggests that the job was not being competently run.

But equally concerning is the statement made by LBWF’s Head of Health and Safety, Mr. Garioch, to the HSE on 14 January 2020 that ‘the basement was fully stripped of Asbestos several years ago’, because this was at the time (and remains) contradicted by the evidence.

For after 2015 LBWF or its agents commissioned five asbestos surveys (those carried out by Clearway Environmental in May 2016, ALS in September 2017, GBNS partnership Ltd. in April 2018 and June 2019, and Environtec in September 2020) and every one showed that, far from having been ‘stripped out’, the asbestos in the Town Hall basement remained very much present, and in some cases ‘high risk’.

Quite why Mr. Garioch wrote as he did remains to be established. 

But the fact that when questioned directly about this episode, LBWF Chief Executive, Martin Esom, and Strategic Director Place, Stewart Murray, both have declined to provide a meaningful explanation, and engaged in silly games, suggests that they are far from at ease.  

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Is LBWF involved in covering up the danger that Town Hall asbestos has posed to its staff and contractors?

Asbestos in Waltham Forest Town Hall: a new LBWF disgrace? Part Two

Asbestos in Waltham Forest Town Hall: a new LBWF disgrace? Part One