Beachcomber café boss given £39k fine for putting staff at risk of asbestos – Devon Live
The boss of the fire ravaged Beachcomber Cafe in Teignmouth and his company have been ordered to pay GBP39,000 in fines and costs after he defied a council ban to retrieve property from the wrecked building. Ralph Brown put staff at risk from asbestos by getting them to return to the beach front cafe on Teignmouth seafront a week after a fire in the summer of 2017. He and his wife Victoria joined nine employees who went through metal barriers to reach the restaurant area where they removed the contents and loaded them onto a flat bed lorry outside.
None of them wore any protective clothing other than dust masks and some were wearing only shorts and t-shirts when they entered the building. Brown leased the cafe from Teignbridge Council which had fenced off the site and ordered him not to go there until damaged asbestos had been removed. He believed it was safe to enter the restaurant part of the cafe because a specialist using proper protective clothing had sealed off the kitchen, which was the only area with damaged asbestos-coated roof tiles.
A council official spotted what he was doing and sparked a major safety operation.
It included telling staff to bag up their clothing for decontamination, advising them to seek medical help, and sealing off the flat-bed truck. A subsequent check by specialist engineers found that there was no asbestos contamination in the restaurant area and that the risk to staff had been ‘theoretical and insignificant’. Brown, aged 55, of Jetty Marsh Road, Newton Abbot, admitted failing to protect employees from exposure to asbestos.
Fire in the Beachcomber Cafe on Teignmouth seafront on July 25, 2017 (Image: Facebook/Teignmouth Fire Station)
His former company CDVB, of the same address, admitted four counts of failing to make a proper risk assessment, exposing staff and the public to risk of asbestos, failing to mitigate the unplanned release of asbestos and failing to prevent the spread of asbestos.
Brown, who resigned as director of the company last year, was fined GBP1,000 and the company was fined a total of GBP10,000. They were ordered to pay a total of GBP28,982.41 costs by Recorder Mr Paul Grumbar at Exeter Crown Court. He told Brown:”I take the view it was abundantly clear the defendant failed to check and reassure himself that his employees were safe.
“Everything I have read about Mr Brown suggests he is a hard working, sensible, valuable member of the community. “The evidence shows he cares for his employees and their welfare and it is unlikely he would have pushed his way in, not caring for their safety or wellbeing,” Mr Dale Collins, prosecuting on behalf of the council, said Brown and the company put the employees who went inside the building at risk at a time before the restaurant area had been given the all-clear.
He said council officials told him repeatedly in phone calls and e-mails that he should not enter the building because of damaged asbestos in the days after the fire, which happened on the night of July 24, 2017. Some asbestos-coated tiles above the main part of the fire in the kitchen were cracked by the heat and a storage area in the loft above the restaurant had been identified as a hazard even before the blaze. The council set up metal fencing around the building and refused entry even after Brown complained that he needed to salvage equipment on August 2.
He received a report from an asbestos consultant working for his insurers the next day.
He understood it to mean that the risk was restricted to the sealed off kitchen area, but the report did not authorise entry. On August 4, employees were asked to report for work and spent the day emptying the restaurant of furniture, equipment and food which was stored under some of the seating. Two employees used a ladder to go into the loft area, where there was a risk from asbestos, and remove items from it.
None of the 11 people who went into the building were in protective suits and some were in shorts and t-shirts and were photographed loading the truck by a Teignbridge employee, who alerted Environmental Health. They sent officers to stop the work and organised specialist contractors wearing full protective clothing to seal off the truck with metal barriers and move the contents of the truck back into the building. Mr Collins said: “Brown was present when people accessed the Beachcomber Cafe.
He was aware of the presence of asbestos but disregarded that knowledge and the information provided to him.
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“It was only four days later that tests came back as negative for asbestos. He knew access was prohibited by the council and ignored concerns that were raised.” Mr Bernard Thorogood, defending, said Brown is a reputable businessman with no previous convictions who acted in good faith and did not believe he put anyone at risk from asbestos.
He ensured that the potentially contaminated kitchen area was sealed, even though this meant the loss of valuable equipment including two brand new GBP10,000 coffee machines.
He studied the report from his insurer on the night of August 3 and understood it to mean that it was safe to return to the restaurant part of the building, which was later found to be completely clear of asbestos.
He said an expert report described the risk which the employees were exposed to as being theoretical and the likelihood of harm to be insignificant.