M&S hit with £1m asbestos fine for unsafe refurb work

Grant Prior 13 years ago
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Marks and Spencer and three of its contractors have been fined a total of £1.15m for putting shoppers and construction workers at risk of asbestos exposure during refurbishment work on two stores in Reading and Bournemouth.

A sentencing hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court today resulted in Marks and Spencer being fined £1m and ordered to pay costs of £600,000.

Styles & Wood was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000 and Willmott Dixon  was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,000.

Asbestos specialist PA Realisations (formerly Pectel Ltd) is now in administration and was fined a token £200.

Willmott Dixon Construction is applying for permission to appeal against the conviction.

Folowing a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive, Marks and Spencer, Willmott Dixon and PA Realisations were found guilty in July 2011.

Styles & Wood Limited pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in January 2010.

During the three month trial which ended in July 2011, 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, did not allocate sufficient time and space for the removal of 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.

HSE alleged that Marks and Spencer failed to ensure that work at the Reading store 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.

The contractor, PA Realisations, 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.

Styles & Wood, the principal contractor at the Reading store, admitted that it 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 principal contractor at the Bournemouth store, Wilmott Dixon, 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.

After the sentencing, Richard Boland, 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.”

A Willmott Dixon statement said: “We are disappointed and surprised by today’s verdict – it is the first time in our 160 year history that we have been convicted of a health and safety related offence.

“Health and safety is at the centre of everything Willmott Dixon does, underpinned by rigorous procedures and a ‘safety first’ culture.

“This is further strengthened by having one of the industry’s largest teams of in-house health and safety inspectors, who visit, monitor and assess each project on a regular basis. We are proud of our health and safety record, which we believe is one of the best in the industry.

“We believe we acted appropriately at all times on the project in Bournemouth for Marks and Spencer, which included using an HSE licensed and experienced asbestos removal subcontractor selected from the Marks and Spencer approved list, which we were required to use in sourcing a subcontractor.

“At the time we appointed and used the specialist asbestos removal subcontractor, we had no knowledge of the existing concerns the HSE had about their previous performance. Had we been informed they would not have been engaged.

“Clearly we have to take on board today’s verdict and will see what we can learn from the incident. We are however minded to appeal.”

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