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Woolworths fined over asbestos exposure

Published: 9 December 2008
High street retailer dealt another blow as it is ordered to pay £40,000 in fines and costs after staff at two Devon stores were exposed to asbestos.
Woolworths fined over asbestos exposure
The ruling at Exeter Crown Court found the retail giant, which recently entered administration, guilty on two charges under the Health and Safety Act and ordered it to pay £20,000 in fines and additional costs of £20,000.

The court heard how asbestos fibres were left covering stock and shelves at Woolworths branches at Bideford and Tiverton after a contractor removed asbestos ceiling tiles.

Staff were then told to clean up the unsafe debris with dustpans and the branches opened to the public the following day.

LCH Contract Ltd, who carried out the work at the stores in April 2004, was supposed to erect ceiling to floor polythene tents before the removing the tiles. However, this was not done and assistant manager of the Tiverton branch, Lesley Collins told the court that, as a result, staff were exposed to the carcinogenic dust for up to 10 days.

Samples taken three months later revealed that asbestos was still present at the two Devon stores. It is unknown how far afield the contamination could have spread.

Essex-based contractor was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 in costs.

On imposing the fines, Judge John Neligan said: "Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material and inhalation can cause serious and even fatal conditions...The work was not carried out with a view to minimising exposure and no enclosures were erected, which was a diversion from the method of work agreed with the councils."

He added that although Woolworths relied on experts to deal with the work, it had failed to take adequate steps to protect its staff and was therefore was also guilty of exposing them to the risk of asbestos.

LCH Contract is said to have lost £6m in similar contracts following the court proceedings.

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