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Marks & Spencer fined £1 million in asbestos case

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The High Street giant, Marks & Spencer was this week found guilty of two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, following a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive.

They were found to have failed to protect customers, staff and workers from potential exposure to asbestos during refurbishment at their Reading store.

M&S were undergoing a huge £1.3 billion refurbishment programme of their stores across the country, and employed contractors who removed asbestos from ceiling tiles and elsewhere during work carried out at their Reading, and also Bournemouth store, in and around 2006/2007. A ceiling, possibly containing asbestos, fell to the floor during opening hours.

Judge Christopher Harvey Clark, sitting at Bournemouth County Court, commented that customers and staff who were at the store when the works were being carried out “have a right to be anxious as to whether they have breathed in asbestos fibres”.

Several contractors hired by M&S had failed to fully carry out guidance issued by the store in relation to asbestos removal and the charges had been denied. However it was found that Marks and Spencer had a “duty of care” to ensure that the refurbishments were carried out safely.

Responding to the ruling, M&S has said: “We are very disappointed with the result of this case, as we believe we have always acted responsibly and with a safety-first attitude.

“We hope to continue to work closely with the Health & Safety Executive in the future to ensure that strict regulations and safety standards relating to asbestos are maintained.”

The Health and Safety Executive’s campaign “Asbestos: The Hidden Killer” has revealed that, on average, 20 tradesman in the UK die every week from asbestos related damage to their lungs. Exposure to asbestos is the largest single cause of work related deaths in the UK, and even though the material is now banned, thousands of tradesman are still being exposed to its dangers, as it remains in buildings.

The HSE estimate that around half a million buildings in the UK still contain asbestos, most likely those constructed or refurbished before 2000. If asbestos fibres are disturbed, for instance, by drilling or cutting, they can be inhaled as a deadly dust.

Lung cancer, Mesothelioma, and Asbestosis are all diseases associated with exposure to asbestos. If you, or a family member, have been affected by this, then our personal injury department have specialist experience in assisting you to get compensation for help with your condition.

By personal injury executive, Pauline Smith