Altrad has set aside £118m to deal with a string of historical allegations linked to asbestos exposure.
Altrad Services, the UK arm of France-based Altrad and number 68 on the CN100 last year, said it “continues to receive claims” from insurance companies and individuals over historic alleged exposure to asbestos.
The claims date back to a series of substantial allegations aimed at Cape Immediate Holdings, a UK-based energy services firm which Altrad bought for £332m in 2017.
Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that MPs wrote to Cape and called on the firm to make a £10m donation towards mesothelioma research. Cape is accused of knowingly misleading the government and public over the dangers of asbestos and lobbying for higher permitted dust levels.
In its annual accounts for the year to 31 August 2022, filed this week, Altrad Services said it would provide for costs and settle claims “where [they] are determined to have merit”. In other situations the firm may choose to defend itself.
Altrad warned there was “inherent uncertainty” over the level of the costs and the number of disease claims, owing to changes in legal precedent.
It added there could be “significant additional liability” over the £118m provided for if some claims are successful, which could then lead to future claims. Altrad will reassess the level of the liabilities in August 2025.
Despite the provision, Altrad saw “continued recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed its pre-tax profit to £22.8m for its last financial year in comparison to £13.3m the year before. Its turnover also increased from £193m to £220m.
Construction News approached Altrad for comment.
Cape was one of a number of acquisitions made by Altrad in recent years to beef up its industrial services presence. In 2015 it bought Dutch industrial services company Hertel, years after it acquired Deeside-based scaffolding subcontractor NSG UK. In 2018, Altrad combined Cape, Hertel and NSG into a single industrial services provider which eventually became Altrad Services.
In an interview with CN in January 2021, Altrad’s joint chief executive Ran Oren said expanding through acquisitions is “in our DNA”, suggesting it will push for more acquisitions in the UK.
Two leading organisations focusing on asbestos management in the UK warned last November that the UK’s approach to the issue is “failing”. That prompted renewed calls on the government to develop a national database covering asbestos in the UK.
Data from the Health and Safety Executive shows that more than 5,000 people die each year from exposure to the toxic material, which was only banned from sale and use in the UK in 1999.