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Marks and Spencer's £1 Million Asbestos Fine – A Wake Up Call for the Commercial Sector

Marks & Spencer Plc and 3 of its contractors have been fined heavily for exposing members of the public, staff and construction workers to asbestos containing materials during the refurbishment of 2 of their stores.

£1 Million Fine

M&S were fined £1 million, and ordered to pay costs of £600,000 for breaches at their Reading and Bournemouth stores. M&S were held to have breached Section 2(1) (duty of employers to protect health & safety of staff) and Section 3(1) (duty to members of the public and other workers) of the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974.

Health and Safety Breaches

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) alleged that M&S did not allocate sufficient time or space for the removal of asbestos-containing materials during renovation works. Contractors regularly had to work through the night in small enclosures on the shop floor – completing small areas of asbestos removal before the stores opened to the public each day.

Marks & Spencer Plc had in fact prepared its own guidelines regarding asbestos removal in-store. The Crown Court heard that this guidance was not followed by Contractors during the refurbishment works.


Asbestos mineral fibres are strong and fire resistant. These characteristics once made asbestos a “miracle material”, before its cancer causing properties were discovered. Asbestos was used prolifically in the manufacture of wall tiles, roofing insulation, pipe lagging, ceiling panels and plaster work.

Although it is now illegal to use asbestos-containing materials in building work, old asbestos-containing materials are still in place in a large number of buildings. Asbestos is therefore a serious health risk to those involved in the renovation of commercial properties.

Wakeup Call

Richard Bowlens, 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 work 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."

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Dated: 03/02/2012

Author: Greg Cox

Dangers of Asbestos

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