Union furious after MD of Carlisle Housing Association blamed workers for the health risk

UK construction union Ucatt has called for the managing director of Carlisle Housing Association to be sacked, after a BBC programme revealed that workers and tenants were exposed to asbestos.

The Inside Out North East programme broadcast by the BBC on 7 October showed workers on the housing association's properties drilling into asbestos and being refused masks. Other failings included not supplying the appropriate protective clothing, not training the workforce, and not disposing safely of hazardous material.

However, when questioned by the BBC interviewer about why workers had been exposed to asbestos, Patrick Leonard, managing director of Carlisle Housing Association, blamed the workers.

He said: “The employee has shared responsibility with the manager for health and safety… The responsibility is on both sides.”

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of union Ucatt, described the comments as “absolutely disgraceful”.

He said: “Workers and tenants are left fearing for their health, and he has the audacity to try to absolve himself from blame. His position is entirely untenable and he must be replaced immediately.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also come under fire from Ucatt for not fully investigating the housing association, despite a series of complaints by workers and tenants.

Ucatt said that the safety body limited the investigation to “simply talking to management”. It then gave the association a clean bill of health.

Ritchie said that this has resulted in “a huge loss of confidence in the HSE”.

He added: “It is their role to ensure that workers' health is not placed at risk. The failure to hold a credible investigation into what are potentially very serious health concerns has meant that our members in Carlisle have no confidence in that body. An urgent inquiry is needed into how they conducted this investigation.”

Inhaling asbestos can result in serious medical conditions. Last year, 2,000 people died from mesothelioma, an incurable form of lung cancer caused by asbestos.