The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Topshop’s owner, Arcadia Group Ltd, and the principal contractor for the site, Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd, following an investigation. HSE said a specialist contractor should have been brought in at the outset.
Liverpool Magistrates' Court heard that workers were exposed to asbestos fibres as they removed air conditioning, sprinklers and other equipment next to ceiling beams, which had previously been coated with sprayed asbestos.
The refurbishment work was allowed to go ahead despite a survey, carried out before the project started, identifying asbestos as being present in the building on Church Street in the city centre.
Attempts were initially made to seal off access to the first floor of the building on 9 June 2008, when the sprayed asbestos on the ceiling beams was disturbed. But work was allowed to continue elsewhere in the six-storey building, which also houses Topman and Miss Selfridge.
A total of 45 construction workers were eventually asked to stop work nearly two weeks later after a contractor alerted the HSE that the contamination had spread outside the sealed area.
Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd, of Newton Street in Norwich, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,769 in costs. Arcadia Group was fined £5,000 with costs of £10,769 on 17 March 2011. Both fines were the maximum that could be issued by the magistrates' court.
HSE investigating inspector Warren Pennington said: "It is shocking that workers were exposed to deadly asbestos fibres, and that the refurbishment work was allowed to happen without the proper control measures in place.
"Neither company took adequate action to prevent workers being exposed despite a survey alerting them that asbestos was present in the building. The refurbishment work on the first floor was likely to disturb the asbestos and so a licensed specialist contractor should have carried it out.
"Instead, up to 45 individuals, who were working in the building, now have to live with the knowledge that they may become ill with a life-threatening lung disease."