When using contractors, how can I ensure that I satisfy my health and safety obligations to prevent prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive?

The recent prosecution of Marks & Spencer over health and safety failings during refurbishment works at its Reading store highlights the importance for retailers to be aware of, and comply with, their responsibilities when engaging contractors.

Kerry Gwyther, a specialist health and safety lawyer at national law firm TLT, says: “Retailers who neglect the safety of their contractors are potentially liable to an unlimited fine.

“To comply with these laws, retailers must – generally speaking – check to ensure that contractors are competent and have sufficient resources to undertake the work safely. Retailers and contractors must also share information about possible health risks on site, such as asbestos contamination, and must allow sufficient time and resources for all stages of work.” 

 Kerry adds that particular care needs to be taken when dealing with asbestos: “Retailers have a duty to ensure the safety of employees and members of the public as well as contractors. An assessment should be carried out to determine whether asbestos is likely to be present at the premises.” If asbestos is present, a plan needs to be in place identifying the contaminated areas and how the risk will be managed.

He says retailers must ensure that contractors (and anyone else likely to disturb the asbestos) are aware of its location and condition before any works begin. They must also factor in sufficient time for such issues to be dealt with safely.