Marks & Spencer fined £1 million over asbestos risk

High Street giants Marks & Spencer suffered a spectacular fall from grace on Tuesday when the company was fined £1 million for putting customers and staff at risk of exposure to asbestos in its Reading store.

The company was also ordered to pay costs of £600,000 at the sentencing hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court. Contractors working on the refurbishment of the Broad Street store were also handed fines of £100,000 and £50,000 for breaches of Health & Safety Regulations.  

Despite government pronouncements that retail environments are inherently safe and that industry needs only a ‘light touch’ approach when assessing risks to health and safety, these serious shortcomings on the part of a highly respected UK business suggest that the opposite is true.

If a household name like Marks & Spencer can fall foul of health & safety legislation we should be very concerned about lapses in standards across the country, especially in the current economic climate when the temptation exists to save money by cutting corners on worker and public safety.

Construction workers continue to be at high risk of serious injury or death and we echo the comments made by Richard Boland, the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) Southern head of operations for construction who 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.”

Bonnar & Company Solicitors specialises in accident and work and industrial disease compensation claims. Call us free on 0800 163 978 for impartial expert legal advice.  

UK asbestos law not up to Euro standard

The UK version of a European Union-wide law on asbestos safety is illegally lax and must be amended, the government has been told last week.

The TUC, which had warned against the dilution of essential safety measures, said the European Commission (EC) ruling nails the myth the UK ‘gold-plates’ Euro laws.

Last week’s ‘reasoned opinion’ from the EC, in response to a complaint about inadequacies in the UK law, gives the government two months to amend the law or face possible action at the EU’s Court of Justice. It says the UK misinterpreted requirements on ‘sporadic and low intensity exposure to asbestos’ to justify the exclusion of considerable amounts of asbestos work from asbestos licensing, health assessments and exposure recording requirements.

The EC announcement, warning of court action if the government fails to act, notes: ‘The UK legislation currently focuses on the measurement of exposure to asbestos and not enough on the how the material will be affected by the work itself, while the directive deals with both exposure and the material.’ 

The problem of UK workers’ exposure to asbestos will be with us for a very long time and we are heartened to note that the EC has expressed its dissatisfaction with the UK’s recent interpretation of the regulations. It is a sorry state of affairs indeed when workers in this country have to rely on external interventions to secure adequate occupational health safety standards.

Bonnar & Company specialises in workplace accidents and illnesses and we would be happy to discuss the circumstances of your claim free of charge and without obligation.

You can contact us on freephone: 0800 163 978  

£20,000 asbestos fine imposed on John Lewis ‘low hazard’ workplace

High street retailer John Lewis PLC was yesterday handed a fine of £20,000 for failing to do proper checks for deadly asbestos while carrying out refurbishment work at a city department store.

In a case which gives the lie to Lord Young’s recent assertion that offices present a low hazard risk to health and safety, Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard renovation work was being carried out over four days at the management suite of the retailer’s store at the city’s St James Centre in July 2008 when asbestos was discovered at a board between two radiators.

Workers covered it in a bag and reported it to management before a check was carried out. The board was sent for analysis but work was allowed to continue when the site should have been shut down. It was only when the results came back positive that the project was halted. The court heard around 15 workers could potentially have been exposed to the harmful substance.

Sheriff Elizabeth Jarvie QC today also fined contractors Morris and Spottiswood Ltd £20,000 and added that she had reduced both fines from £30,000 to reflect the guilty pleas. However, she went on to say: “This was a serious and disturbing case but in any event no-one sustained any harm. As soon as discovery was made effective and immediate action was taken by the companies.”

Fair enough?

Well sorry no, not really and here’s why. Far from ‘no-one sustaining any harm’, the reality is that asbestos is an invidious, invasive and life-threatening substance which, if even a single fibre is inhaled, can cause cancer in the victim, a fact borne out by the 4,000 plus deaths from asbestos-related cancer each year in the UK.

Are we missing the point here? Lord Young has chosen to completely ignore the fact that ANY WORKPLACE HAS THE POTENTIALTO BE HAZARDOUS OR INJURIOUS TO HEALTH.

It is quite astonishing that a government funded report can blandly state that: ‘low hazard workplaces are those where the risk of injury or death is minimal. These include shops, offices and classrooms…’

Perhaps the HSE should have made Lord Young aware of its own research on asbestos-related deaths before rushing to endorse his various ill-judged pronouncements on the relative dangers of ‘low hazard’ workplaces.

John Lewis PLC and Morris and Spottiswood each admitted three charges under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

If you have been exposed to asbestos or any substance injurious to your health and wish to discuss your case, please contact us on FREEPHONE 0800 163 978.