A North East hospital trust has been fined after contractors were unsuspectingly exposed to asbestos fibres at Sunderland Eye Infirmary.

On Friday 18 January, Sunderland Magistrates’ Court heard that over the weekend of 24/25 March 2012, contractors at the infirmary drilled through door surrounds on a ward to install cables.

It was revealed that concerns regarding the work were raised the following day by a member of Trust staff and it was confirmed that the door surrounds were made of asbestos insulating board.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an investigation and discovered that City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust had an asbestos survey that clearly showed there was asbestos in the door surrounds. Despite a number of site meetings between the trust and the contractors however, no information on the location or condition of any asbestos was given to the contractors.

The Court was informed that asbestos insulating board does not pose a risk to health unless it is damaged or worked on, causing asbestos fibres to be released. It heard that drilling the board could cause fibres to be released into the air.

City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £4,582.40 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 (9)(c)(i) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.

Following the hearing, HSE Inspector, Shuna Rank, said:

“This incident was entirely preventable and highlights the importance of having a robust asbestos management system in place. City Hospitals Sunderland had put considerable resources into identifying where asbestos was in the hospital buildings but failed to have efficient procedures in place to ensure the information was passed to the contractors.

“As a result workers drilled through the asbestos-containing material, potentially exposing themselves, hospital staff and members of the public to dangerous fibres.”