A large UK department store company and three of its contractors have been fi ned for putting members of the public, staff and construction workers at risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during the refurbishment of two stores.

At the sentencing hearing in Bournemouth Crown Court, the company were fi ned £1million and ordered to pay costs of £600,000 for breaches under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 which occurred during refurbishment of their store in Reading. Contractors Styles & Wood Limited and PA Realisations Ltd were also fi ned £100,000 (plus costs of £40,000) and £200 respectively for failings at the same store. Furthermore Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd, the principal contractors working on the refurbishment of the company’s Bournemouth store, were fi ned £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,000, for breaches under the 1974 Act at this site.

In the Reading store the failings largely came down to insuffi cient periods of time being allocated, by the company, for the removal of asbestos-containing materials that were present in the ceiling tiles and elsewhere. The contractors had to work overnight in enclosures on the shop fl oor, with the aim of completing small areas of asbestos removal before the shop opened to the public each day. In turn, the contractors 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.

The failings in the Bournemouth store came down to the principal contractors, Willmott Dixon Contraction Ltd, failing to plan, manage and monitor removal of asbestos-containing materials.

The company and the two principal contractors (Styles & Wood Limited in Reading and Willmott Dixon Construction Limited in Bournemouth) were found guilty of breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the 1974 Act. PA Realisations Ltd (formerly Pectel Ltd) was found to be in contravention of regulation 15 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 having failed to reduce to a minimum the spread of asbestos to the Reading shop fl oor.

This case shows again how important it is to ensure the proper removal of any asbestoscontaining materials and that resources must be committed to such projects to ensure the public and workers are not put at risk.

Further information about asbestos can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/