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Asbestos management at Marks and Spencer

Why data is the key to safety

With more than half of its estate being built before the turn of the century, it’s no surprise that asbestos containing materials are a major consideration in many of Marks and Spencer’s (M&S) buildings. It is a key consideration in terms of the day-to-day management of in-situ materials and controlling of work on the fabric of the building.

That’s why Craig Barker and his Health and Safety team take it so seriously. They have focused on what they need to do as a duty holder with regards the ‘Duty to Manage’, establishing ways of working, training, expert support and controlling works carried out regardless of size with data being at the forefront of everything they do to ensure effective management of asbestos containing materials.

Marks and Spencer sign behind scaffoldingIt is important to understand the role of the asbestos register and the need for it to be a live document that is updated as and when things change. For example, when additional asbestos surveys are carried out or when asbestos removal has taken place.

Craig says: “In the M&S environment, it is imperative that the asbestos register must be easily digestible and readily available to allow the 4,500-plus maintenance tasks to be carried out safely each week.

“The development of a digital intuitive asbestos register was a primary focus in supporting the implementation of a business-wide asbestos management plan and is at the heart of everything that M&S does.

“The provision of accurate data is paramount to stopping inadvertent exposures. The system was reverse engineered so that it meets the needs of M&S as the duty holder as opposed to receiving data from external surveying organisations. Over time it has developed into the one-stop asbestos portal which informs us through dashboards relating to risk, reinspection programming, remedial work programme management, capital project management and the ability to push accurate asbestos register data electronically to all buildings and maintenance engineer devices. This is replicated for some international territories and is closely linked to site access verification from an asbestos awareness training perspective.”

Building a system and team

Marks and Spencer  temporary store entrance sign during building works with arrow showing customers where to go.Craig has spent a decade working with M&S, having initially been utilised in a consultancy capacity to use his vast experience to implement robust policies to ensure customers, colleagues and contractors enjoy a safe shopping and working environment.

He quickly set about ensuring that all data and information is kept in one single location which is accessible to anyone who needs it.

“It was important to us that we simplified everything,” he said. “I wrote a strategy that showed where the business needed to go and what the end game was, from where everything could fall into place, with a bit of education thrown in.

“We set off on a journey to make sure the asbestos register was central to everything we did and that people occupying the buildings had accurate information which was easy to digest. From there we wrote a process around how we deliver projects and set up a framework to ensure delivery teams knew what was needed.”

It was at this point that Craig introduced an M&S Asbestos Management Team, for a variety of reasons, including:

  • to focus on the duty to manage (duty holder) requirements
  • to be an integral link between internal teams and external contractors
  • to review contractor scopes of work against the register
  • to be an integral link to the asbestos removal and surveying/analytical partners
  • to control the flow of data and own the final quality control process including the asbestos register update
  • to produce specifications for asbestos removal works
  • to act as a ‘phone a friend’ to offer advice for stores, internal teams, and external suppliers or contractors
  • to control the reinspection and remedial programme, including risk assessment.

Hands holding tablet computer with Marks and Spencer training compliance page on the screen.With more than 4,500 capital projects a year and thousands of maintenance tasks every week, the team plays a crucial role in individual safety and the overall operation of M&S’s buildings.

Craig adds: “A great system provides the basis for provision of great risk management and accurate information but will never run itself; couple it with a dedicated presence with clear responsibility and accountability and it becomes very powerful, not only demonstrating compliance with legal obligations but making things more efficient, reducing unnecessary site work or visits, in turn reducing capital or revenue driven outlay. It’s been a real realisation at M&S.”

Data to the end user

Fast forward a few years and the system contains all relevant information about asbestos within the M&S estate, including distribution centres, support centres, unoccupied sites, and some international buildings.

A simple categorisation exists using a traffic light approach – red, amber, green system – which relates to when the properties were built and aligns with prohibition dates and the phasing out of asbestos containing material usage.

“All store colleagues and contractors have access to the live asbestos register, which is by floor and by location, with the location driven by a location number so it’s easy for us to hang the data from, update and consult on,” adds Craig.

The live asbestos register is viewed by M&S’s maintenance contractors for every single job they go to, it is linked to the signing in process electronically. They can also view the information before they set off to the job.

“We also use this to plan all works when it comes to capital projects, so all relevant information is there for those that need it. They are supported as required by our Asbestos Management Team to make decisions on any next steps required, for example, if any additional surveying or asbestos removal is required” adds Craig.

Contractor signing in at Marks and Spencer.There is a repository sat behind this which includes the dates reinspections are due, remedial actions from reinspections and includes supporting documents including site audits, air monitoring paperwork and the physical survey itself. This is controlled on a permission basis; the end user only sees the detail they need, the latest position for the building, super users see more, the latest position and everything that makes up that latest data position.

“We refer to this part as mission control and it is restricted to the Asbestos Management Team,” Craig adds.


No one can enter an M&S site to conduct work without relevant training. Any contractors are required to have UKATA (United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association) training and must also undergo a short course on how M&S manages asbestos before being granted access to a site. This is controlled through the system, audited against and is a key concept to ensure those 12,000-plus contractors working on M&S’s buildings understand its asbestos management arrangements.

“We want to be satisfied they know how we manage asbestos and what support is available”, adds Craig.