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Marks & Spencer facing big fine over asbestos work

Retailer and three contractors guilty of breaching safety laws during refurbishment at Reading and Bournemouth stores

Marks & Spencer and three contractors face heavy fines in a sentencing hearing starting on Monday for failing to protect customers, staff and workers from asbestos during refurbishment of two stores.

Management was said to have been more concerned about the works being “unsightly” and “interfering with the shopping experience” of customers than the potential for people to be exposed to the cancer-causing material.

Construction workers removed asbestos in ceiling tiles and elsewhere during the work at stores in Reading and Bournemouth between 2006 and 2007.

The three-month trial at Winchester crown court was told that M&S did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of the material in Reading and contractors had to work overnight before the shop opened to the public each day.

M&S guidance on asbestos removal was not fully followed by the contractors during the major refurbishments. M&S had a “duty of care” to ensure the work was carried out safely.

The retailer was found guilty in July on two charges under health and safety laws of failing to ensure the wellbeing of its staff and others at the Reading store.

Willmott Dixon Construction, of Hertfordshire, was found guilty over health and safety breaches at the Bournemouth store.

Manchester-based PA Realisations (formerly Pectel) was found guilty of contravening asbestos at work regulations at the Reading store.

At an earlier hearing Styles & Wood of Cheshire pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches relating to the Reading store.

The companies will be sentenced at Bournemouth crown court during a two-day hearing ending on Tuesday.

Richard Matthews, prosecuting, told the trial that M&S failed to carry out sufficient surveys to identify the location of asbestos in the stores. He explained that M&S as a company was experienced in handling asbestos with 70% of its stores containing it and the firm had its own asbestos code of practice.

“Marks & Spencer had a duty to make sure asbestos did not take those working in the store by surprise.

“If that meant making the store unsightly to customers or interfere with their shopping experience then so be it – better an unattractive store in the short term than the risk of anything else in the long term.” © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds