Major U.K. Retailer Fined £1 Million for Asbestos Violations

According to a report from BBC News this week, U.K. retail giant Marks & Spencer has received a £1 million fine due to a failure to protect customers and staff from a potential risk of asbestos exposure. The fine was levied by Judge Christopher Clark of the Bournemouth Crown Court, who explained that the exposure dated back to 2006 and 2007 at two stores in Reading and Bournemouth. According to the BBC, the Reading location was said to have been undergoing a remodeling project a few years ago when asbestos tiles fell from the ceiling and onto the floor of the store. In that case, the judge claimed that the company essentially turned a blind eye to the event, primarily because of a cost issue. In the BBC article, Judge Clark claimed that the inaction was a result of a “tension between health and safety and profit,” which caused “lamentable problems.” The news source reports that the fine relates back to “two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 of failing to ensure the health and safety of its staff and others at the Reading store in July.” Marks & Spencer was fined £500,000 for each of the occurrences at the Reading and Bournemouth stores. Willmott Dixon Construction is the Hertfordshire contractor who was found guilty of violating the Health and Safety Work Act on two occasions, the news source reports. Another contractor, PA Realisations of Manchester, was also found guilty of violating health regulations in the Reading location of Marks & Spencer.  A third contractor, Styles & Wood Limited, also of Manchester, had previously pleaded guilty to violating the Health and Safety at Work Act in the Reading location, the BBC writes. Representatives from Marks & Spencer have generally remained silent on the proceedings. However, the news source reports they did express their displeasure with the ruling, saying they were “very disappointed with the result of this case, as we believe that we have always acted responsibly and with a safety first attitude.” The company further claimed in the article that the safety of their employees, customers, and contractors is “of the utmost importance” to them. The trial that had lasted nearly three months revealed that contractors at each of the Marks & Spencer locations had failed to follow any guidance on asbestos removal during the refurbishment process. Asbestos, which was a frequently-used material throughout the 20th century, has been known to cause a deadly cancer known as mesothelioma, which is characterized by its short life expectancy and dangerous latency period. According to an executive from Health & Safety in the U.K., the BBC reports that this fiber is responsible for nearly 4,000 deaths per year. Reference:
  • BBC News Staff. (September 28, 2011) “Marks & Spencer fined £1m over asbestos risk.” Retrieved on September 28, 2011 from BBC News.
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