A construction firm has been fined after exposing workers to potentially deadly asbestos fibres during the conversion of an office block into residential flats in Witham, Essex.

Marden Homes was commissioned to convert an office block into residential flats in July 2012. The project required the removal of a disused boiler and its pipes from the building’s former plant room.

During the refurbishment work, company employees disturbed pipe lagging that contained asbestos fibres.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Marden Homes at Chelmsford Magistrates Court after finding the company had not made a refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey available to the workers.

The Marden Homes employees were therefore unable to identify the presence of asbestos before removing the disused boiler and associated pipework, potentially exposing themselves to asbestos fibres.

One of the workers involved had not received any training to identify whether the materials he was removing contained asbestos.

In 2013, the company received advice from HSE regarding the need for a refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey to be carried out, prior to work liable to disturb asbestos taking place. The company also received an improvement notice requiring them to provide their employees with asbestos awareness training.

Marden Homes Ltd, of 275 Prince Avenue, Westcliff on Sea, Essex, was fined £50,000 with costs of £1413 after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

HSE inspector David King said: “Exposure to asbestos fibres is a serious and well known health risk, so it is essential that duty-holders take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent the disturbance, spread and exposure to asbestos.

“Guidance on managing the risks of asbestos is widely and freely available. Asbestos has been subject to regulations since 1931 and relevant to the construction industry since 1969.

“Therefore, failing to take action to identify the location and type of asbestos present during planning of the work, not communicating that information to workers/contractors who may disturb the asbestos and then not taking appropriate measures to protect the health of those exposed is absolutely inexcusable.”

Around 4,500 people die every year as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres, making it the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. These fibres can become lodged in the lungs and digestive tract, and lead to lung cancer or other diseases, but symptoms may not appear for several decades.