Topshop owner Arcadia Group has been today fined and prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for its part in exposing construction workers to potentially deadly asbestos fibres at one of its stores in Liverpool.
Some 45 workers were exposed to the substance - which is the single-greatest cause of work-related death in the UK - and were only asked to stop work on the building in June 2008 after it became apparent that the contamination had spread.
Refurbishment work undertaken at the time was allowed to go ahead despite a survey revealing that the asbestos was present in the building prior to the construction process beginning.
Shopfitting firm Vincents, the principal contractor on the development, has also been prosecuted following the HSE investigation and subsequent trial at Liverpool Magistrate’s Court.
The building in question, which is located in Church Street in Liverpool city centre, also houses Topman and Miss Selfridge.
Warren Pennington, the investigating inspector at HSE, called it “shocking” that construction workers were exposed to the asbestos.
“Neither company took adequate action to prevent workers being exposed despite a survey alerting them that asbestos was present in the building,” he explained.
“The refurbishment work on the first floor was likely to disturb the asbestos and so a licensed specialist contractor should have carried it out.”
Vincents was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,768 in costs, while Arcadia was fined £5,000 with costs of £10,769.
The fashion retail group’s charge relates to a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and specifically the failure to prevent work from starting on the site until the shopfitting firm had produced plans outlining how if would deal with asbestos.
Arcadia was in the spotlight last December when it was targeted by protestors angry about tax avoidance by big businesses and wealthy individuals.
A number of the group’s stores across the UK were forced to temporarily close when activists super-glued themselves to shop windows to draw attention to alleged tax avoidance by the company and its owner Sir Philip Green.
Green is a respected retail industry figure, recently picking up the International Retailer of the Year accolade at the National Retail Federation Awards, and denies any claims of wrongdoing.
He was quoted by the BBC last year saying that he is not a tax exile and that his company has paid hundreds of millions of pounds in UK levies over the last five years.