A building contractor who had carried out work at a number of Marks & Spencer stores has made a series of claims to the BBC about the level of risk from asbestos at a number of stores during refurbishments.
M&S was fined back in 2011 for asbestos risks in its Reading store during refurbishment. However, the contractor is claiming this is just one of many incidents in his experience with the company.
The riskAsbestos is present in buildings across the high street, as builders took advantage of what they thought at the time was a versatile, cheap and flame-retardant material. It was used extensively until the 1970s, but at that point the building industry became aware of the true hazards of the material. If fragments of asbestos are inhaled it can cause cancer and a number of lung conditions.
The material had been used for hundreds of years, but only became commercially successful in the 1920s and 1930s. Because asbestos-related disease takes up to 40 years to develop, the true risks took this long to emerge - during which time asbestos continued to be fitted and worked with around the country. It is now banned in the UK, but the effects continue to blight thousands of lives.
The claimsThe contractor's story will be on the BBC's Inside Out programme tonight. He makes a number of allegations during the programme. He says that during the refurbishment of London's Marble Arch store in 2008 there were a number of incidents where asbestos was not treated properly, and that asbestos had been broken up and left lying around.
Steve Rowe, a Marks & Spencer board member, told the programme: "On the face of it these allegations sound worrying, but our team at the time 15 years ago thoroughly investigated them on the day. They thoroughly investigated them some three months afterwards and again I've spoken to those individuals and could find no case whatsoever to say any member of staff or any member of the public was put at risk."
ReadingA spokesperson told AOL that there had been one incident in 2008 in a store in Reading, which was being renovated when ceiling tiles containing asbestos fell to the floor. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, and a case brought in 2011. M&S was convicted of two charges of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers, and fined £1 million. She said: "There was one regrettable incident in Reading for which M&S has apologised, but there have been no further incidents in the 129 year history of M&S."
The spokesperson added: "M&S stores are completely safe for employees and customers."