In the United Kingdom, there are 703 Marks and Spencer department stores, many of them located in buildings constructed prior to asbestos restrictions. Now, a British contractor claims that the popular retailer has exposed workers and others to that toxic asbestos on a variety occasions and he has reported his findings to the BBC, which will be airing the claims on their “Inside Out” program this week.
An AOL News article reports that the Marks and Spencer (M&S) chain of stores faced a fine back in 2011 for shoddy workmanship at its Reading store that resulted in asbestos exposure during a refurbishment project. The contractor, who remains unnamed, claims that the Reading incident was one of many in his experience with this particular company, whose shops are among the most popular department stores in the U.K. M&S also boasts more than 360 additional stores in 40 other countries.
In the United Kingdom, asbestos was used in numerous building products until the end of the 1970s. As a matter of fact, it enjoyed more than a half-century of regular use in the British Isles and it’s not unusual to still find the material in older homes and commercial buildings. It is now banned in the U.K., but the country has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma – asbestos-caused cancer – in the world.
The contractor claims that, among other things, a refurbishment of the Marks and Spencer store in Marble Arch in 2008 resulted in several incidents where the handling of asbestos materials was improper and pieces were left broken up and lying around. As a result, airborne fibers may have been inhaled by contract workers and others in the building at the time.
Steve Rowe, a board member for the retail chain, says the allegations are unfounded. He says workers were not at risk in 2008 or at any other time. Another spokesperson for the company concurs, saying: “There was one regrettable incident in Reading for which M&S has apologized, but there have been no further incidents in the 129 year history of M&S. M&S stores are completely safe for employees and customers.”