The British Health and Safety Executive office has charged several companies with exposing staff members and customers to loose asbestos fibers in their stores. The charges relate to violations of asbestos safety rules during remodeling work carried out in stores in southern England. The most notable name among those charged is Marks & Spencer, the largest retail clothing chain in the UK with over six hundred stores across Britain.
The HSE also charged other leading companies, including store design firm Styles &Wood, Willmott Dixon Construction, Clarence Contractors, and toxic waste management firm PA Realisations Ltd., with failure to comply with environmental safety laws, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act, during work the firms carried out in refurbishing several Marks & Spencer stores during 2006 and 2007.
Executives at Willmott Dixon did not enter a plea to charges of contradicting the Health and Safety at Work Act for work they conducted at a Marks & Spencer location in Bournemouth, a city on the south coast of England one hundred miles southwest of London. HSE officials charge that the company did not provide adequate protection for workers when they removed asbestos from the store during the spring and summer of 2007.
Some of the firms involved have already entered pleas to address the violations. Attorneys for Styles & Wood pled guilty to violating the law during a project at a store in Reading, a suburb of London. The asbestos remediation project stretched from April to November of 2006, at which time the company allegedly failed to provide sufficient safety precautions for workers on site.
Work crews with Clarence Contractors were cited for violations during work at the stores in Bournemouth and Plymouth, a town in the far western edge of England. The company is in the process of closing its doors, which led to the magistrates court issuing small fines totaling only GBP200 covering the violations and court costs. At the time that the company received the court’s decision, the company bank accounts totaled only GBP318.
PA Realisations, formerly known as Pectel Ltd., pled not guilty to two charges of violating the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations of 2002. Work site supervisors allegedly did not follow proper procedures for removing and disposing of asbestos found during cleanup and remodeling work at the store in Reading. The firm went into administration in 2008 and is currently under the control of its creditors.
As for Marks & Spencer itself, a spokesman said that the retail giant would plead not guilty to the six counts of violating numerous environmental protection and worker safety laws. In an odd coincidence, the remodeling work carried out on the Bournemouth store was commissioned as a test bed for a new “green” store design, which would incorporate more environmentally friendly features.
The news comes in the light of a public awareness campaign that the HSE has spread throughout Britain about the high incidence of malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive and fatal form of cancer that attacks the fluid lining of the lungs, as well as other lung diseases related to asbestos exposure. Scientists estimate a record number of cases of asbestos-related lung disorders in Britain by the year 2025.
Sources: Bournemouth Daily Echo, Construction News (cnplus.co.uk), Phillip Poynter Construction Safety