TUNNELLING ON Switzerland's ambitious Alptransit rail project was halted for a week in early April when contractors encountered a thin seam of naturally occurring asbestos.
Contracting consortium MaTrans was 6km from the southern portal on the 34.5km Lotschberg tunnel when the 9.6m diameter TBM struck a small zone of asbestos deep within the granite massif.
MaTrans initially issued operatives with protective clothing and immediately covered up any exposed asbestos. However client Alptransit insisted work was halted while tests were carried to assess the environmental risk.
Work resumed after a week and operatives will continue to wear protective clothing for the rest of the project.
A spokesman for the contractor, which includes Britain's Balfour Beatty, said striking asbestos was very unusual.
lThe House of Lords last month gave a landmark ruling on compensation for UK workers exposed to asbestos. It ruled that those working for more than one employer are now entitled to seek compensation. Previously workers had to prove they had contracted asbestos-related diseases while working for a particular employer. Employer liability insurance premiums are expected to rise.