‘Terrified to hold new born baby’

Asbestos fibres
Asbestos fibres

A Dunloy man was terrified to hold his new born baby because he feared he might pass on asbestos fibres to the child after learning he had been exposed to the substance at work.

Speaking to the Ballymoney Times this week, Seamus Kelly said fear of “passing on the fibres” was “like a ticking time bomb”.

Watts Group PLC was fined £30,000, plus costs, at Antrim Crown Court on Wednesday for three health and safety breaches that resulted in two construction workers being exposed to asbestos.

The sentencing came after a Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) investigation into how, in early 2013, Seamus Kelly, a joiner, and his colleague Alan Tweed, were exposed to asbestos while replacing doors in the service ducts beneath Holywell Hospital, Antrim.

In addition to being the appointed project managers for the removal of asbestos containing materials from the underground service ducts, Watts Group PLC also organised and conducted an asbestos survey for these duc ts.

The information contained in the survey was then used to develop illustrative site plans showing areas where asbestos was present and areas where it had been identified as having been removed.

Watts Group PLC provided these plans to a construction sub-contractor whose role was to remove and replace doors and to carry out other building work in the ducts.

HSENI’s investigation found that the survey conducted by Watts Group PLC fell far below the required standards. In addition, asbestos was discovered in poor condition in numerous areas throughout the ducts, in areas where the Watts plans illustrated there was no asbestos.

However, the two men say the court findings provide them with little comfort.

Speaking to Ballymoney Times, Seamus Kelly said: “The minute I saw the asbestos I knew it was in a really bad condition. For three weeks Alan and myself had to continue working despite knowing this asbestos was in a really bad state.

“I raised it with the Health and Safety Executive they began the investigation.”

Although neither man have suffered from any obvious health issues as yet, it has caused a great deal of stress to them and their families.

“At the time my daughter had just been born,” added Seamus, a joiner. “Every night I would go home worried that I was carrying asbestos fibres on my clothes or body after a day crawling about in the service ducts. When you have a new born baby, the first thing you want to do when you see her is to hold her and cuddle her and it was constantly in my mind was I passing on these fibres.

“It has been very tough since 2013 because there is always that worry and stress about what way this will manifest itself because it can take up to 20 years before a victim will begin to feel symptoms, it’s like a ticking time bomb.

“We live with this every day and we have had very little advice or support as to what we need to do health wise. When we asked the HSE they just told us to seek legal advice but that’s not much use to folk who can’t afford it. The first year and a half was very bad for us but at least I am back working now but we are still left with the uncertainty of knowing if or when we could be affected by working in these conditions.”

Speaking after the court sentencing Jonathan Knox, an inspector with HSENI’s Major Investigation Team, said “Safety advisors, project administrators and asbestos surveyors perform a vital role in the construction industry. The information they provide is relied upon by many others to keep workers safe throughout a construction project.

“Organisations, such as the Health Trust in this case, expect to be able to rely on the opinions of their experts to assist in the prevention of exposure to asbestos fibres.

“This case should act as a reminder to advisors and surveyors involved in construction projects that measures must be taken, prior to the start of any works, to ensure that the correct type of asbestos survey is completed and carried out with patience, in a thorough and systematic manner.”

HSENI’s Duty to Manage Campaign outlines the legal duties required for those who are responsible for the repair and maintenance of properties to manage the risk of asbestos: www.hseni.gov.uk/dutytomanage