A FACTORY which exposed two workers to asbestos during renovation work has had its fine slashed by almost half after a judge praised their health and safety record.
Crediton Dairy was fined £300,000 by Exeter Magistrates in October last year but that figure has been reduced to £160,000 by a judge after they appealed to the city’s Crown Court.
Judge Stephen Climie ruled that the original fine had been too high because it over-estimated the size and resources of the company and gave too little weight to their strong commitment to promoting health and safety.
Crediton Dairy Ltd were prosecuted because lagging inside pipes which were being removed by contractors were left on site for more than two weeks in July 2019.
They fell onto the floor after collapsing as they were hit with hammers during the demolition work.
The company itself did not realise that the piping contained the potentially lethal material until a safety consultant alerted them to it but they then left it covered in a tarpaulin on a pallet for a couple of days before it was removed.
They inadvertently misled the same consultant because they did not realise that the pieces of piping contained asbestos until further checks were made. Two workers who were exposed to asbestos suffered some ill effects.
The company, which is based at Church Lane in Crediton, admitted two breaches of the Control of Asbestos regulations, which form part of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Judge Climie allowed their appeal against the sentence and reduced the fine to £160,000 with £3,034.25 costs and a statutory surcharge of £181.
He said: “The company has repeatedly expressed its remorse and its regret. The company has a local personality within the community and this should have been taken into account in assessing the degree of reduction of the fine.
“Most important for us was the report from the company’s insurers which demonstrated independently a history of not just deference to health and safety but a positive and pro-active attitude.”
Mr Tom Bradnock, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said the offences were committed between July 5, 2023, when a contractor brought down the piping, and July 23 when it was eventually removed.
Mr Daniel Pawson-Pounds, defending, said the company did not realise there was asbestos in the piping and were not alerted by those working on it until shortly before it was removed.
There had been a misunderstanding with a consultant who alerted them to the danger which resulted in it being covered in a tarpaulin in that time for which the company accepts it is responsible.
He presented a report from the company’s insurance brokers which revealed that they averaged only one claim a year, which is remarkably low for a business if their size.
They described the dairy’s approach to safety as “a living piece of discipline rather than just an item of shelfware”.
Mr Pawson-Pounds said these offences did not arise from any attempt at penny pinching and they have chosen the most expensive option for the removal of other asbestos which was been found since 2019.
He said: “This case has had a real impact in the company. They are not a faceless conglomerate who are hiring lawyers to get out of it.”
A specialist engineering company did not appeal the fine which they received in the same hearing in October.
RWH and Sons, which is registered at an office in Exeter but based in Cranmere Road, Okehampton, admitted four offences under the same regulations and were fined £2,660 with £3,290.19 costs.
They pleaded guilty to working on asbestos without the appropriate licence, failing to provide protective clothing for two workers, failing to minimise risks, and not storing waste asbestos correctly.