A private school in Lancashire has been fined £100,000 after one of its stonemasons developed a potentially fatal lung disease.
The 55-year-old man was employed for almost 12 years by Stonyhurst College, Clitheroe, where he was exposed to high levels of silica dust. He was diagnosed with silicosis in July 2011 and now has reduced lung function and can no longer work as a stonemason.
In a criminal prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Preston Crown Court was told on 29 May that the college employed the stonemason as a member of staff in 1999 as its 200-year-old buildings needed repairs for wind and weather-proofing. A second stonemason was employed in April 2005 and a third in January 2009 to help with a project to build sixth form accommodation.
The project required more than 400 tonnes of sandstone, on which the stonemasons worked with powered hand tools. The HSE found that despite sandstone containing 70-90 per cent crystalline silica, the college failed to recognise the risks and no equipment was used to remove, capture or suppress dust created by the tools.
Stonyhurst was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £31,547.78 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Mike Mullen said: “There was no attempt by the college to assess and manage its workers’ exposure despite having their attention drawn to the risks by its own health and safety consultant in 2008. We estimate that they were regularly exposed to silica dust at a level which was in excess of 80 times greater than the workplace exposure limit.”
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