Before the start of the 21st century, asbestos was widely used across many industries in the United Kingdom. Whether for fireproofing, insulation or some other purpose, asbestos was considered a go-to material by many employers. In fact, despite the hazards of asbestos becoming clear and categorical to all by the 1980s, some within the construction industry continued to use it past this date; meaning that any property built before 2000 might contain the material.
Although asbestos does demonstrate useful properties, it also carries a number of dangers. For example, if someone disturbs or damages asbestos, tiny fibres are released into the air. The fibres are so small that when inhaled they are impossible to dislodge and any person affected could ultimately develop a condition such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer.
These illnesses often have dramatic effects and can even prove fatal. Moreover, symptoms may develop decades after a person initially comes into contact with asbestos fibres.
A real and present danger
Unfortunately, although there has long been a ban on the importation, use or supply of asbestos in the UK, some employers are still exposing workers and the general public to this dangerous substance.
Marks and Spencer accused of safety failings
For example, in 2013, a contractor spoke to the BBC claiming that those who shopped and worked at a Marks & Spencer store in London might have been exposed to asbestos fibres.
Describing the work, the contractor said, "There were minefields, asbestos minefields for the want of a better expression... you could not have guaranteed the safety of anybody; the workers, the staff, the customers: you could not have given a 100% guarantee that those people were safe".
Disputing the claims, a spokesperson for Marks & Spencer stated that the organisation carried out a number of investigations into the London store and could not find any evidence suggesting that individuals were exposed to asbestos fibres during the renovation.
But this was not the first time the retail giant was accused of failing to handle this material safely.
In 2011, Marks & Spencer was penalised with a £1million fine after Bournemouth Crown Court ruled that the organisation had breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. During refurbishment of two stores in 2006 and 2007 employees were not granted suitable amounts of time or space to safely remove asbestos fibres.
Moreover, it was claimed that the organisation failed to adhere to asbestos legislation, potentially resulting in individuals coming into contact with this dangerous material.
Speaking after the court's verdict, a spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive described the case as a "wake up call", saying, "Any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money – no matter what".
Make an asbestos claim
If your employer failed to implement suitable safety procedures for dealing with asbestos fibres and you or a loved one has been adversely affected, our team of mesothelioma and asbestosis solicitors might be able to help you receive damages through an asbestos claim.
Please contact us today on 0370 218 4025 for more information. Alternatively, you can email our department through an online enquiry form.