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7th October 2011

High street retailer fined £1 Million for Asbestos failings.

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.

The sentencing hearing, at Bournemouth Crown Court, resulted in Marks and Spencer plc being fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £600,000, 3 Contractors were also fined for breaches that took place at the Marks and Spencer plc store in Broad Street, Reading.

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.

The contractors failed to reduce to a minimum the spread of asbestos to the Reading shop floor. Witnesses said that areas cleaned by the company were re-contaminated by air moving through the void between the ceiling tiles and the floor above, and by poor standards of work.

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.

“Large retailers and other organisations who carry out major refurbishment works must give contractors enough time and space within the store to carry out the works safely.   Where this is not done, and construction workers and the public are put at risk, HSE will not hesitate in taking robust enforcement action.”

Marks and Spencer plc, of Waterside House, North Wharf Road, Westminster, was found guilty of breaching section 2(1), relating to its own staff, and section 3(1), relating to members of the public and other workers, of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, on 18 July 2011. At the sentencing which took place at Bournemouth Crown Court on the 27 September 2011, Marks and Spencer plc was fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £600,000. These charges and fines relate to the Broad Street, Reading store and date from 24 April 2006 to 13 November 2006.

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