Eight-month prison sentence for director who put workers at asbestos risk

A company director has been put behind bars in relation to a student development project in Winchester that saw workers exposed to asbestos.

Stephen Davies, 59, had established Cavendish Winchester Ltd solely for the purpose of refurbishing a commercial unit at the Hampshire city’s Winnall Close into accommodation for students to rent.

However, his failure to protect workers at the site from the risks of the long-banned carcinogen ultimately landed him a custodial sentence of eight months in prison, after he admitted guilt to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

His co-director, 56-year-old Neil Bolton, managed to avoid jail time. Nonetheless, Mr Bolton was given a four-month suspended sentence at Southampton Crown Court on 27th March 2024, after pleading guilty to violating the same Act.

The company itself was hit with a fine of £30,000, with all three defendants admitting their guilt.

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What are the details of this “particularly serious” case?

Commenting after the hearing, Steve Hull – principal inspector for the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – described the case as “particularly serious”, and the key details make clear why this was an accurate statement for the regulator to make.

The HSE launched an investigation after it received a report indicating that large quantities of asbestos insulating board (AIB) had been illegally removed at the site. Indeed, the public body ultimately found that during the refurbishment – which took place during late 2019 and early the following year – an estimated 10 tonnes of asbestos was removed.

The work – which was all undertaken under Mr Davies’ direction – saw lethal asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) stripped out by workers who were unqualified to do the job, and who were not aware of the health risks arising from this.

The court heard that both directors knew about the extent and amount of the ACMs within the building. This was indicated by the fact that they had previously approached licensed contractors to ask for legitimate quotes for the substance’s removal.

However, instead of proceeding to have the asbestos materials removed by a professional in a legally compliant way, the directors opted for the cheaper, but much more dangerous route of unqualified asbestos removal.

Another indicator of the potentially severe consequences of breaching asbestos law

All three defendants in the case pleaded guilty to charges relating to a lack of adequate management of ACMs removal at the Winchester site.

While Mr Davies was sent to prison straight away, Mr Bolton was handed a custodial sentence of four months, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to undertake 250 hours of unpaid work, as well as to pay costs amounting to more than £5,123.

The HSE principal inspector added following the hearing: “We brought this case because, despite the directors of this company being put on notice of the risks involved, they put profit before the health of those they employed.”

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