Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has been fined £14,000 after building workers refurbishing one of its pubs were exposed to asbestos.
Work was being done to the vacant White Horse in Darlington in September 2007 when workers began drilling into the ceiling of a kitchen that contained asbestos tiles.
An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that M&B had surveyed the building for asbestos in June 2007 but that it had changed its refurbishment plans before work commenced and that those areas newly due for a refit had not been checked for the deadly material.
M&B was fined a total of £14,001 after pleading guilty at Bishop Auckland Magistrates' Court to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The pub operator was also ordered to pay costs of £11,781.45.
M&B was also ordered to pay a separate '15 victim surcharge', the proceeds of which will be spent on services for victims and witnesses.
The HSE also found that none of the workers involved in the refurbishment had been given asbestos awareness training and served four of the contractors hired by M&B with notice that they should provide such training.
HSE Inspector Victoria Wise said M&B knew asbestos was in the property and should have taken the necessary steps to exclude exposure to workers.
"Everyone who owns or operates commercial premises built prior to 2000 must ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment for asbestos has been carried out prior to any construction work starting," she added.
A spokesman for M&B issued the following statement: "Mitchells & Butlers recognises the seriousness of this matter and has cooperated fully with the Health and Safety Executive throughout its entire investigation.
"As a company we have never been involved in any other asbestos related incident and our excellent safety record was recognised by magistrates.
"We have since undertaken a comprehensive review of our policies relating to the control of asbestos and a clear message has been sent to all contractors and sub-contractors about the seriousness of asbestos exposure and the necessity of asbestos awareness training.
"We are confident that through our existing policies, staff training and established guidelines for contractors and sub-contractors that all efforts have been made to prevent asbestos related health and safety breaches from being repeated.
"The company offers its sincere apologies to all those affected and fully accepts the decision of the magistrates' court."
Last week M&B posted a 26 per cent rise in annual pre-tax profits, on turnover of nearly £2bn.