Forty-five workers exposed to asbestos during Topshop renovations
Topshop the well-known high-street clothing retailer and a shopfitting firm have appeared in court after workers were exposed to potentially deadly levels of asbestos at a Topshop store in Liverpool.
The shop’s owner Arcadia Group Ltd contracted Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd to be the principal contractor for renovations at the store in Church Street. Arcadia occupied five of the six floors in the building and the renovations were being carried out as part of an expansion project so it could occupy the final floor.
Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard the refurbishment work was allowed to go ahead despite a survey, carried out before the project started, identifying that asbestos was present in the building.
Vincents sub-contracted McVey Brothers Demolition Ltd to remove electrics on the first floor of the building, involved workers removing air conditioning, sprinklers and other equipment next to ceiling beams, which had previously been sprayed with asbestos.
During a site management visit Vincents identified that asbestos had been disturbed, and immediately made attempts to seal off access to the first floor of the building. But work was allowed to continue elsewhere on the premises, which also houses Topman and Miss Selfridge. On 20 June, the firm carried out a bulk analysis of debris at the site and found that asbestos fibres had spread across the building. It subsequently notified the HSE of its findings.
The HSE issued a Prohibition Notice to Arcadia to stop work at the site until a licensed contractor had been appointed to clear the asbestos.
HSE comments revealed the incident could have been avoided if the asbestos survey had been followed and the work was properly planned and monitored. He said: “It’s 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.”
Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd appeared in court on 17 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 22(1)(a) and 23(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for failing to properly plan, manage and monitor the project, and for not identifying the risks from asbestos and taking action to address them. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,769 towards costs.
Arcadia Group Ltd also appeared at the hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 16(a) of the same legislation, by failing to prevent work starting on the site until Vincents had produced a construction plan, outlining how it would deal with the asbestos. It was fined £5000 and was also ordered to pay £10,769 in costs. In mitigation, Vincents said it had no previous convictions and stressed it was an oversight that the asbestos survey had not been followed.