£20,000 fine following John Lewis asbestos breach

by Josephine Heinemeier

John Lewis store Edinburgh (courtesy of johnlewis.com)

Retailers John Lewis have been fined £20,000 after failure to follow appropriate safety procedures concerning asbestos checks, resulting in the possible exposure of the poison to 15 construction workers.

While undergoing refurbishment, John Lewis’s Edinburgh store has been found in breach of correct asbestos checks.

In accordance with demolition and refurbishment procedure, a “Type Three” asbestos check should have been carried out, which is noted as meaning “getting into every nook and cranny to ensure there is no risk of asbestos exposure.”

However, only a “Type 2” check was executed, which is used mainly for reviewing houses and was not appropriate for the building that it was applied to.

15 construction workers were possibly exposed to the poison – which can result in diseases such as cancer, lung scarring and serious respiratory issues – however effects of exposure can take up to 40 years to become apparent.

Contractors Morris and Spottiswood, who were hired to carry out the renovation, were also fined £20,000 as it was ruled that both John Lewis and the contractors were responsible for the examination of asbestos levels and risk of exposure and as neither had checked that proper procedure had been followed, they were both at fault.

“The potential risk of what could have happened is very great, and both companies did not make the suitable safety checks, nor did they ensure that the other had.” stated Procurator Fiscal Maureen McGovern when asked about the case.

Both companies, however, have voiced their apologies and admitted that they were at fault; Lawyer Robert Fife, representing John Lewis, said “My client is in no way denying the mistakes… They did carry out a type two check on the area before beginning so it is not as though they neglected to do any sort of safety check – they just got it wrong.”

Craig Turnbull, for Morris and Spottiswood, said “The type two survey showed no asbestos and everyone really believed that… It was not a deliberate mistake, no one suspected anything.”

Sheriff Elizabeth Jarvie said that both companies would have been fined £30,000 had they not admitted their mistake at such an early stage. “Both companies took effective and immediate action after the error occurred and neither could be blamed for being cavalier, and since the incident I am satisfied that new systems have been put in place to make sure this never happens again.”