A PACKAGING company has been fined £24,000 for failing to remove potentially lethal asbestos from its factory.

Smurfit Kappa UK Ltd, which has a site in West Auckland, County Durham, which employs about 170 people, pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to manage and remove the asbestos, at Darlington Magistrates’ Court today (October 7).

Health and Safety Executive inspector, Victoria Wise, told the court an investigation at the site was launched after asbestos was identified in a finance store cupboard last June.

She said the global company had ordered an asbestos management survey of the buildings in 2008 and several areas were identified as containing asbestos.

A particularly high risk area was the finance store cupboard which had ceiling tiles and floor debris containing the harmful material.

Ms Wise said the report was “very clear” on what the company should have done to tackle the problem and while managers did make a plan and even obtained a quote for the store room work, by 2009 three of the high risk areas had still not been tackled along with the majority or medium and low risk problems identified.

Ms Wise told the court it was not until the sites’ health and safety manager discovered frequent checks had not been carried out that an external asbestos survey was ordered and carried out in June 2014.

“When he arrived at the final store cupboard he saw it straight away. He said ‘Lock the room and get everybody out’ and that’s how it came to light,” Ms Wise said.

She also said it was the surveyor’s opinion that, from looking at photographs taken in 2008, the cupboard was in the same condition and about eight employees had been put at risk by frequently going into the room.

Ms Wise said that although no employees appeared to have been affected by the exposure, it could be 15 to 40 years before any symptoms appeared.

However, Chris Green, mitigating, said no one had been exposed to the harmful material.

“There’s no suggestion that the management at West Auckland actually knew and turned blind eyes or shut their minds to the obvious,” he said.

“In 2011 this site nearly went to the wall and came very close to being closed.”

He added: “Steps were taken, there was a plan, it simply lapsed and they are very sorry for that.”

Magistrate, Patrick Langdon, fined the company £24,000 and also ordered it to pay a victim support charge of £1,200 and court costs of £1,596.