Shopfitters and Retail Giant Fined over Asbestos Exposure

A shopfitting firm and one of the largest retail groups in the UK have been prosecuted by the Medical negligence Health and Safety Executive, after construction workers carrying out renovation work on a Topshop outlet in Liverpool were exposed to asbestos fibres.

Vincents (Shopfitters) Limited, a shopfitting firm based in Norwich, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,769 at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, after pleading guilty to breaching Regulations 22(1)(a) and 23(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Arcadia Group Limited, also appearing at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, was fined £5,000 with costs of £10,769, after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 16(a) of the 2007 Regulations. In both cases, magistrates set the maximum fines permissible by the court.

The Health and Safety Executive sought to prosecute the firms after construction workers at the Topshop store were found to have removed sprinkler systems, air conditioning units and other such equipment from areas near to ceiling beams that had been spray-coated with asbestos years earlier. Despite a survey indicating the presence of asbestos in the building, bosses approved the renovation prior to work being started.

The work was carried out in June 2008, during which time workers became aware of disturbing the asbestos-coated ceiling beams. Although attempts were made to seal off the building’s first floor, work continued on higher floors before the project was brought to an end by the Health and Safety Executive, which had been contacted by a contractor who noticed the asbestos was not properly contained. Personal injury claims involving industrial diseases are very common for injury lawyers in the UK, with exposure to asbestos causing the highest number of disease-related deaths among workers in the country.

Speaking after the court hearing, Health and Safety Executive inspector, Warren Pennington, condemned the actions of the defendants, stating that lives were needlessly placed at risk. Mr Pennington said: “It is shocking that workers were exposed to deadly asbestos fibres and that the refurbishment work was allowed to happen, without the proper control measures in place. Neither company took adequate action to prevent workers being exposed, despite a survey alerting them that asbestos was present in the building.  The refurbishment work on the first floor was likely to disturb the asbestos and so a licensed specialist contractor should have carried it out. Instead, up to 45 individuals, who were working in the building, now have to live with the knowledge that they may become ill with a life-threatening lung disease.”