Marks & Spencer fined £1m over asbestos risk

Image caption,
M&S and its contractors were convicted of failing to ensure health and safety of staff and others in July

Marks & Spencer has been fined £1m for failing to protect customers, staff and workers from potential exposure to asbestos.

Customers at stores in Reading and Bournemouth were put at risk of exposure to asbestos in 2006 and 2007 during refurbishments, a court heard.

Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC said the company was more interested in profits than planning asbestos removal.

Marks & Spencer said it had acted responsibly and was "disappointed".

'Lamentable problems'

The Marks & Spencer shop in Broad Street, Reading, was being refurbished when ceiling tiles containing the cancer-causing material fell to the floor.

"The response from Marks & Spencer was, in effect, to turn a blind eye to what was happening... it was already costing the company too much money," the judge told Bournemouth Crown Court.

He said the "tension" between health and safety and profit had caused the "lamentable problems" which had led to ceiling dust possibly containing asbestos falling to the shop floor when it was open.

Marks & Spencer was convicted of two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 of failing to ensure the health and safety of its staff and others at the Reading store in July.

It was fined £500,000 for each offence.

Marks & Spencer employed contractors who removed asbestos present in ceiling tiles and elsewhere during the work at the store in Reading and also at Bournemouth.

During the three-month trial at Winchester Crown Court, it was revealed Marks & Spencer guidance on asbestos removal was not fully followed by the contractors during the refurbishments.

However, the court also heard the company had a "duty of care" to ensure the work was carried out safely.

Inhalation of asbestos, which was widely used as a building material from the 1950s until 2000, can cause cancer and other serious diseases which the Health and Safety Executive says is responsible for about 4,000 deaths a year.

'Safety first'

Nicholas Haggan QC, for Marks & Spencer, said there was no evidence of "significant" amounts of asbestos contamination at the stores.

In a statement, Marks & Spencer said: "We are very disappointed with the result of this case, as we believe that we have always acted responsibly and with a safety first attitude.

"The health and safety of our employees, customers and contractors is of the utmost importance to us.

"We hope to continue to work closely with the HSE in the future to ensure that strict regulations and safety standards relating to asbestos are maintained."

Contractor Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd, of Hertfordshire, was found guilty of contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act at the Bournemouth store, also in July.

Manchester-based company PA Realisations Ltd (formerly Pectel Ltd), was also found guilty of contravening Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 at the Reading store.

At an earlier hearing, Styles & Wood Limited, of Manchester Road, Altrincham, Cheshire, pleaded guilty to contravening the Health and Safety at Work Act, also relating to the Reading store.

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