Marks and Spencer, one of Britain’s best loved high street chains has been fined £1 million for failing to protect contractors, customers and employees from exposure to asbestos during commercial property refurbishments.
The incidents happened four to five years ago at commercial properties in Bournemouth and Reading stores. During the Reading commercial property renovation, ceiling tiles containing the deadly asbestos substance became unattached and fell to ground. When the substance cracks, asbestos fibres are realised into the air which have been proven to cause cancer and other fatal diseases.
Richard Matthews, Prosecutor during the trial said, “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 interfering 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.”
During the trial it is believed that some of the asbestos in the commercial property was only found when a contractor began sawing through a panel which contained the substance. The contractor then had to be decontaminated, which must have been an extremely unnerving situation.
Christopher Harvey, the Judge during the trial expressed, “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.”
“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,” Judge Harvey added.
Marks and Spencer was found guilty of two offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They were fined £500,000 for each violation. The breaches were:
In a statement, Marks and Spencer expressed, “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.”
Although people were exposed to the asbestos substance, they were very unlikely become ill from just a single exposure. But Richard Matthews expressed that is not the point as, “Marks and Spencer had a ‘duty of care’ to ensure the work was carried out safely.”
Reports from Health and Safety executives say that asbestos is responsible for approximately 4000 deaths a year. The substance has been banned from use in the European Union since 1999.
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