I was very surprised to see a company such as Marks & Spencer being fined for potential asbestos exposure. The recent court case revealed that customers, staff and contractors were put at risk to exposure to asbestos in 2006 and 2007 in stores in Reading and Bournemouth during refurbishment.
The Judge who heard the case said that the company was more interested in making profits than planning asbestos removal. As we all know asbestos is very dangerous. It was used widely as a building material from 1950 until 2000 and inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause cancer and other serious diseases which the Health and Safety Executive state is responsible for about 4,000 deaths a year.
During refurbishment of a store in Broad Street, Reading, one of the ceiling tiles containing asbestos, fell to the floor. I was horrified to discover that this happened whilst the store was actually open and trading.
The court heard how the guidance on asbestos removal was not fully followed by the contractors during the refurbishments. The company was convicted of two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined £500,000 for each offence.
Marks and Spencer argued that they had acted responsibly and stated that they were disappointed with the outcome.
They stated that they 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. Only time will tell if they have learned their lesson from this case.