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MAJOR RETAILER AND CONTRACTOR GUILTY ON ASBESTOS RISK

Client failed to allocate sufficient time and space for safe working

Marks and Spencer plc and two contractors have been convicted after putting members of the public, staff and construction workers at risk of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during the refurbishment of two stores.

The prosecutions arise from work carried out between 2006 and 2007 on shops in Reading and Bournemouth. Winchester Crown Court heard construction workers at the two stores removed asbestos-containing materials that were present in the ceiling tiles and elsewhere.

The court heard that the client, Marks and Spencer plc, failed to allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of the asbestos-containing materials at the Reading store. The contractors had to work overnight in enclosures on the shop floor, with the aim of completing small areas of asbestos removal before the shop opened to the public each day.

Minimum standards not met

HSE alleged that Marks and Spencer plc failed to ensure that work at Reading complied with the appropriate minimum standards set out in legislation and approved codes of practice. The company had produced its own guidance on how asbestos should be removed inside its stores, and the court heard that this guidance was followed by contractors inappropriately during major refurbishment.

PA Realisations Ltd, failed to reduce to a minimum the spread of asbestos to the Reading shop floor. Witnesses said that areas cleaned by the company were re-contaminated by air moving through the void between the ceiling tiles and the floor above, and by poor standards of work.

Wilmott Dixon Construction Ltd, failed to plan, manage and monitor removal of asbestos-containing materials. It did not prevent the possibility of asbestos being disturbed by its workers in areas that had not been surveyed extensively.

Wake up call for retail sector

 After the hearing, Charles Gilby, HSE Principal Inspector, said:

“This prosecution exposed serious failures by Marks and Spencer and its contractors that we hope others will learn from. This verdict is a wake-up call for the retail industry. Client accountability and responsibility is at the heart of this case, because asbestos can and does kill.

There are very real lessons here for the country’s large retailers and other organisations engaging in programmes of refurbishment, that they must allow enough time and resource to carry out work without endangering anyone.”

The guilty companies will be sentenced on 26 September 2011.

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