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Asbestos failings highlighted by HSE

Four companies last week faced fines or convictions over asbestos handling from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Marks & Spencer and two of its contractors were convicted on July 18 for putting members of the public, staff and construction workers “at risk of exposure” to materials containing asbestos, the HSE said in a statement.

A refurbishment of two stores including work to remove asbestos from ceiling tiles was carried out in contravention with official guidelines on asbestos handling.

HSE prosecuted Marks and Spencer and Willmott Dixon Construction, both for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 that took place in February 2007 at the store in Commercial Road, Bournemouth (Marks and Spencer was found not guilty for this offence) and PA Realisations for asbestos regulation contraventions between May and November 2006 at the store on Broad Street, Reading.

Winchester Crown Court heard that Marks and Spencer’s contractors did not follow the company’s guidance on how to remove asbestos from within its stores.

Alleged failings included poor standards of work, not properly preventing workers from disturbing asbestos, failure to carry out thorough surveys, and allowing the shop floor to become re-contaminated after cleaning by air flow through gaps between ceiling tiles.

The convictions came just days after a Croydon firm was fined for unlicensed asbestos removal at a site where employees also worked on unsafe scaffolding.

Failings by the 23-year-old Brunwin Professional Roofing Services were discovered by the HSE during a routine inspection in April 2009, and led to fines of more than £8,000, declared on July 15.

According to HSE, asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year.