Last week, Marks & Spencer were fined £1m in relation to works involving asbestos at stores in the South of England.

In the July edition of Disease Brief, we highlighted the increasing number of asbestos prosecutions being brought against individuals and companies.

As we indicated, perhaps the most high profile case brought against a company was the then ongoing prosecution of Marks & Spencer plc and other contractors arising out of works involving asbestos at stores in the South of England.

Marks & Spencer have now been found guilty at Winchester Crown Court of two offences of failing to ensure so far as was reasonably practicable the safety of its employees, and other persons affected, including shoppers at the relevant stores. They have been fined £1m for these offences and also ordered to pay costs of £600,000. Three other contractors were also fined and ordered to pay costs of over £250,000 for their failings.

During the three month trial, the HSE presented evidence alleging that construction workers at the two stores removed asbestos-containing materials that were present in the ceiling tiles and elsewhere. The HSE alleged that Marks & Spencer did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of asbestos-containing materials and that it failed to ensure that work at its Reading store complied with the appropriate minimum standards set out in legislation and approved codes of practice.

After the sentencing, Richard Boland, the 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".