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.
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, PA Realisations Ltd being fined £200, and Styles & Wood Limited being fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000, all for breaches that took place at the Marks and Spencer plc store in Broad Street, Reading.
Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,000, for breaches that took place at the Marks and Spencer plc store in Commercial Road, Bournemouth. Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd is applying for permission to appeal against conviction.
As a result of a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Marks and Spencer plc, Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd and PA Realisations Ltd (formerly Pectel Ltd) were found guilty in July 2011. Styles & Wood Limited pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in January 2010. The work was carried out between 2006 and 2007 on shops in Reading and Bournemouth.
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 contractor, PA Realisations Ltd, 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.
Styles & Wood Limited, the principal contractor at the Reading store, admitted that it should not have permitted a method of asbestos removal which did not allow for adequate sealing of the ceiling void, which resulted in risks to contractors on site and would now lead to asbestosis claims.
The principal contractor at the Bournemouth store, Wilmott Dixon Construction Ltd, failed to plan, manage and monitor removal of asbestos-containing materials. It did not prevent the possibility of asbestos being disturbed by its workers in areas that had not been surveyed extensively.
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.”