Marks and Spencer plc and three of its contractors have been fined for putting members of the public, staff and construction workers at risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during the refurbishment of two stores in Reading and Bournemouth.
Asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year.
During the three month trial which ended in July 2011, Winchester Crown Court heard construction workers at the two stores removed asbestos-containing materials that were present in the ceiling tiles and elsewhere.
The court heard that the client, Marks and Spencer plc, did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of asbestos-containing materials at the Reading store. The contractors had to work overnight in enclosures on the shop floor, with the aim of completing small areas of asbestos removal before the shop opened to the public each day.
HSE alleged that Marks and Spencer plc failed to ensure that work at the Reading store complied with the appropriate minimum standards set out in legislation and approved codes of practice. The company had produced its own guidance on how asbestos should be removed inside its stores, and the court heard that this guidance was followed by contractors inappropriately during major refurbishment.
After the sentencing, Richard Boland, HSE's Southern Head of Operations for Construction, said:
"This outcome should act as a wake up call that any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money - no matter what.”