The NHS trust that runs Watford General Hospital and St Albans City Hospital will be fined next week for putting its workmen at risk to exposure from asbestos.
The West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust, which comprises Watford, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans hospitals, reported itself to the Health and Safety Executive after a new member of staff raised concerns about asbestos in one of its buildings.
A full survey was carried out which resulted in the trust pleading guilty to five charges of breaching health and safety regulations during an eleven year period.
Prosecutor Adam Payter told St Albans crown court yesterday that 47 estate staff who had been involved in maintenance work at the hospitals had been contacted. None had contracted any condition, but he said: "There is a real risk they may contract a disease in the future."
At an earlier magistrates' hearing, the trust admitted that between April 1, 2000, and December 6, 2011, it had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees exposed to asbestos.
It also pleaded guilty to failing to have a written plan; failing to take measures for managing the risk from asbestos; failing to give adequate information, instruction and training to employees likely to be exposed to the fibres between November 12, 2006, and December 6, 2011.
In addition the trust pleaded guilty to failing to take measures necessary to reduce the exposure of its employees to asbestos to the lowest level reasonably practicable. The case was committed to the crown court for sentence.
Mr Payter, who was representing the Health and Safety Executive, said an aggravating factor in the case was that the trust had at times been reckless.
He said: "It was aware of the risk, but failed to take appropriate action.
"There was considerable potential for harm to workers, there were continuing breaches rather than an isolated lapse, the defendant was aware of the risks, but ignored them. It was a continued breach and fell far below the standard required."
On January 5, 2006, the trust was fined £17,000 by Hemel Hempstead magistrates after pleading guilty to two offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
It followed an inspection by the HSE that found it had failed to implement adequate systems to, among other things, prevent the spread of Legionella bacteria in water systems.
In 2011 a newly-employed engineer was concerned that there should be a more comprehensive asbestos survey in the H Block at Watford hospital. Ensafe consultants carried a survey and the findings were sent to the Health and Safety Executive.
Mr Payter said that prior to 2011 the trust took only limited step to manage asbestos.
Colin McCaul QC, defending, said the trust had self-reported its inadequacies over asbestos management to the Health and Safety Executive. "The trust has been candid with itself, the Health and Safety Executive, the court and public. The system now in operation is robust, comprehensive and easily comprehensible. All asbestos has now been removed or contained. There has been an action plan for removal and containment."
He went on: "The asbestos policy had not been fully understood and not implemented. That situation has now totally changed."
Addressing the trust's finance, he said that this year it was running a deficit of £13,370,000. He said that it was now the case that no directors or members of the board were paid bonuses.
Mr McCaul said that every pound spent on a fine could be used for front-line services.
Judge Stephen Gullick said he will deliver his sentence next week.