Marks & Spencer and its contractors have been convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of people at two stores. Marks & Spencer has been fined £1m after failing to protect customers, staff and workers from exposure to asbestos during refurbishment works at their Reading and Bournemouth stores in 2006 and 2007.
During refurbishment at the Reading store on Broad Street, ceiling tiles containing asbestos material fell to the floor while the shop floor was open. Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC told Bournemouth Crown Court 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”.
The Judge stated that Marks & Spencer had been more interested in profits than planning asbestos removal, however the company said it believes it acted responsibly and is said to be disappointed with the verdict.
Marks & Spencer was convicted of two charges under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined £500,000 for each offence due to their failing to ensure the health and safety of visitors to their Reading store in July while refurbishment works were being carried out.
Marks & Spencer had employed contractors who removed asbestos from the Reading and Bournemouth stores, however, it was revealed that the guidance provided by Marks & Spencer on asbestos removal was not fully followed by the contractors. However, the Court heard that Marks & Spencer still had a duty of care to ensure the work was carried out safely.
The contractor working at the Reading store, PA Realisations Limited was found guilty of contravening the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 and the contractor working at the Bournemouth store, Willmott Dixon Construction Limited was found guilty of contravening the Health & Safety at Work Act.
Marks & Spencer have issued a statement saying that “The health and safety of our employees, customers and contractors is of the utmost importance to us.”