A NORTH-EAST hospital trust has been fined £3,000 after contractors were unwittingly exposed to asbestos fibres at an eye infirmary.

Sunderland Magistrates’ Court today (Friday, January 18) heard that contractors at the Sunderland Eye Infirmary, in the city’s Queen Alexandra Road, drilled through door surrounds on a ward to install cables on the weekend of March 24 to 25, 2012.

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

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An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust had an asbestos survey that clearly showed there was asbestos in the door surrounds.

But despite several site meetings between the trust and the contractors, no information on the location or condition of any asbestos was given to the contractors.

The court heard that asbestos insulating board does not pose a risk to health, unless it is damaged or worked on, when asbestos fibres can be released. Drilling the board could cause fibres to be released into the air.

A spokesman for the trust said after the hearing: “The trust has always placed a high priority on the health and safety of its staff, its contractors, its patients and other members of the public.

“The trust has comprehensive procedures to manage the asbestos in its various buildings, but unfortunately due to a last minute change in plan for this particular project, the procedures were not fully implemented. “Systems have been put in place to make sure that such an incident will not occur in the future.”

“In the meantime, the trust would like to emphasise that the tests carried out after the incident for any airborne particles were all satisfactory.”

The City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, which pleaded guilty to an offence under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, was also ordered to pay £4,582 in costs.