A HOSPITAL trust was yesterday fined more than £7,000 after admitting three charges of exposing staff to asbestos.

But health bosses insisted there was no intention to place the two workers at risk during the incident at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, in 2004.

It is not known whether the two maintenance men, employed by South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, will develop health problems - which can take up to ten years to develop - as a result of breathing in asbestos dust.

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Northallerton magistrates heard that the workers were told to turn off the water supply to fire hoses after fears that water in the pipes could cause Legionnaires Disease.

A study into the use of asbestos insulation at the Friarage, built during the Second World War, failed to show any danger.

But Michael Elliker, for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the workers were exposed in to asbestos cladding around the pipes in two places as they turned off the water.

They also cut off the water to the women's health unit by accident and they were again exposed as they tried to re-connect the pipes, he said.

Unable to solve the problem they returned a third time the next day.

The trust was fined a total of £7,530.75 and handed a two-year conditional discharge after pleading guilty to the offences.

Chairman of the bench, Caroline Gardiner, said: "It is hoped nothing untoward happens to these two men."

Neil Permain, the trust's director of operational services, said: "We would certainly never intentionally place any employees at risk to asbestos, and once we knew staff had been potentially exposed, we promptly arranged health and screening checks and co-operated openly and fully with the HSE.

"We did rely on an expert report without making further checks and have since carried out a further asbestos survey across the entire site and a complete review of the trust's asbestos policy and procedures."

The trust has spent £210,000 on removing asbestos from the site as part of a £21m redevelopment.

An HSE spokesman said: "This shows the importance for all large organisations of having good arrangements regarding asbestos."