A shop fitting company has been fined after five workers were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres at the Arndale Centre in Manchester.
Eastern Regional Shopfitters was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive after it ignored a report which stated asbestos was present in a shop it was working on.
Two workers spent five days ripping out old shop fittings in October 2009 before they discovered that asbestos had been used in some of the ceiling panels. Another three management staff at the Arndale Centre were also potentially exposed to the fibres during routine checks on the work.
Cambridge-based Eastern Regional Shopfitters admitted three breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and one of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £4,000 at Trafford Magistrates' Court and ordered to pay £3,215 towards the cost of the prosecution.
Mark Green, 45 from Cambridge, was one of the two shop fitters to be exposed to asbestos fibres. He said: "It plays on my mind. I am more aware of the possibility I may become ill and that my life has unwittingly been put on the line.
"I hope that companies in the construction industry, no matter what their size, now begin to take asbestos more seriously. They should put everyone who works for them on asbestos awareness courses because workers need to be more aware.
"When I go on a job now, the first question I ask is 'Have you done an asbestos report?' and then, if it is present, 'What will your actions be?'."
Tom Merry, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: "Eastern Regional Shopfitters knew asbestos was present in the shop but it didn't inform its workers and it didn't ensure it was dealt with safely.
"Abestos only becomes a risk if it is disturbed so the shop fitters could have worked safely if they knew where the asbestos was. It should either have been sealed or removed by a licensed contractor before the work started.
"Five people now have to live with the knowledge that they may become ill with a life-threatening lung disease. Shop fitting and property maintenance companies must treat the risks from asbestos seriously so more lives aren't put in danger in the future."
Eastern Regional Shopfitters was charged with breaching Regulations 5, 8 and 11 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 by failing to carry out a suitable assessment of the asbestos, carrying out asbestos removal without a license, and exposing workers to asbestos.
Asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with an estimated 4,000 people dying every year.