Marks and Spencer fined £1m for asbestos exposure

 By Kathy Cooke.    25th November 2011

Marks and Spencer have been fined £1m for failing to protect customers, staff and workers from potential exposure to asbestos during refurbishment at three of its stores.

In the past asbestos was used for a variety of purposes including insulation and is still to be found in a wide variety of buildings, including homes, shops, schools and hospitals. There are now strict regulations in this country with regard to the use, handling and disposal of asbestos as it has been shown that exposure to even small amounts can be extremely hazardous to health.

asbestos at Marks and Spencer

As part of a £1.3 billion refurbishment project across their UK stores during 2006 and 2007, Marks and Spencer employed contractors to remove the asbestos which was present in ceilings and elsewhere within the stores.

Bournemouth Crown Court was told that Marks and Spencer plc did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of asbestos-containing materials at the Reading store resulting in ceiling tiles possibly containing asbestos falling to the floor during opening hours.

Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC said that the company was more interested in profits than planning asbestos removal. He stated that: “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.”

Criminal Proceedings Against Marks and Spencer plc

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) initiated the criminal proceedings against Marks and Spencer plc and three other companies for asbestos-related breaches during the refurbishment work. It was noted that Marks and Spencer guidance on removal of asbestos was not followed by the contractors during the refurbishment programme but Marks and Spencer still had a responsibility to ensure that a ‘duty of care’ was followed during these works.

Marks and Spencer plc pleaded not guilty to breaching three counts of section 2(1), relating to their own staff, and three counts of section 3(1), relating to members of the public and other workers, of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Marks and Spencer were subsequently found guilty of two charges under the Health and Safety at work Act 1974 and were fined £500,000 for each offence.

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