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Co Armagh man who ‘failed to protect employees’ fined £6,000

Court Justice

A Lurgan man who failed to protect his employees and the public from contamination of asbestos has been fined £6,000.

A judge told the 46-year-old that this offence had been committed for “personal gain” and the “advancement of his business”.

Jonathon Belshaw, 46, of Old Kilmore Road, pleaded guilty to failing to make an asbestos assessment and failing to prevent, or reduce the spread of asbestos, at Craigavon Crown Court on Thursday.

It was heard that in May of 2014, reports were received about the demolition of property on Charles Street, Portadown,  with the work being done involving asbestos.

Court also heard that this property was adjacent to Hart Memorial Primary School.

A health and safety officer found two men had been carrying out the work on the site when no assessment had been carried out.

Prosecution barrister Ian Tannahill told court that neither of these men were traceable.

He said: “We do not know what health impacts carrying out this work has made on these men, in fact, the might not even know that they are contaminated by the substance”.

It was heard that Belshaw’s company had been sub-contracted by another to remove the waste products from the site.

Written in the contract were specifics that any asbestos-contaminated items would not be removed by Belshaw but by the main construction firm, who would deal with the disposal of such products.

Mr Tannahill stated that Belshaw cleared the non-contaminated area ahead of schedule and then proceeded to move on with other areas of the site without assessment.

Court heard that no air sampling was taken at the time but that experts believed that it would not have been safe for work or occupation.

This was compounded by the fact that the two men on the sight had no safeguards tackling the work with only a dust mask.

Mr Tannahill also stated that a cherry picker had to be decontaminated after this.

He also said that 16 samples of air were taken, with 13 containing asbestos and 7 containing amosite, a component of the prior.

Mr Tannahill asked that “a penalty given would be a warning to others who carry out this sort of work without taking appropriate measures”.

Defence barrister Kevin Magill accepted that Belshaw had exposed his employees to risk.

He said that during interview the defendant “put his hands up” and accepted that he should not have done what he did.

Mr Magill stated: “He did this to ingratiate himself to the local firm to continue gaining contracts, at the time this was a new business.”

He added that Belshaw had believed that because he was not breaking up the asbestos it would not cause harm.

It was heard that the defendant moved to England in his 20’s , where he owned a number of pubs and restaurants but his last venture went into bankruptcy.

Mr Magill commented: “Mr Belshaw had a number of personal difficulties which manifested themselves in a certain way in a pub or restaurant environment.”

The defendant then returned home, where he had family support and went about “turning his life around”.

Mr Magill said Belshaw abstained from alcohol and began to run a small business which would grow.

He stated that this offence occurred in 2014 and that he client had contacted departments regarding its delay on 10 occasions.

Court heard Belshaw now had 14 staff and had paid the appropriate firm £15,000 for the cleanup costs after the asbestos contamination.

Mr Tannahill stated: “Although asbestos has been banned since 1999, it is not a danger if it is untouched if it is damaged or disturbed the fibres get into the air”.

His Honour Judge Patrick Lynch said: “You had the responsibility as an employer there is no excuse for putting these men and others at risk.

“You decided to proceed to try and impress an employer, this was for personal gain, for the advancement of your business.”

He added: “You knew or should have known the requirements, or if you didn’t, you shouldn’t have been running a business like this.”

Belshaw was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for three years and ordered to pay a fine of £6,000, within 26 weeks.

HSENI Inspector Linda Murphy said: “This incident could have easily been avoided if Mr Belshaw had in place a system of work to ensure that an asbestos survey was requested prior to work starting.

“It is essential that asbestos surveys are always conducted in a structured, methodical and systematic manner so as to minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos from subsequent work activities.

“If the appropriate control measures had been taken then workers would not have been put at risk of exposure to asbestos.”

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