Oak FurnitureLand fined almost £400,000 for serious health and safety breaches
By Tom Padfield - 10 March 2020
The parent company of Swindon-based Oak Furnitureland has been fined nearly £400,000 for failing to protect its employees from hazardous and explosive conditions at its premises in Cheney Manor Industrial Estate.
JB Global, which owns the furniture company, pleaded guilty to significant breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) following a prosecution by Swindon Borough Council.
Sitting at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court, Judge Pattinson ordered the company to pay fines totalling £398,000 and costs of £94,904.
Investigations into various health and safety breaches at the company began in 2016 following a complaint by a member of staff. After visiting the business, the Council’s Health Compliance Team was alerted to the fact the company was preparing room divider sheets, which was not a registered activity at the warehouse.
Evidence showed the preparation of the sheets was carried out in a highly explosive environment and not enough action was taken to mitigate the risks to employees.
Workers were provided with damaged or faulty facemasks and conditions were so bad, council officers served an immediate Prohibition Notice.
JB Global was prosecuted for failing to prevent/control exposure of employees to solvents and wood dust under DSEAR as well as failing to to carry out risk assessments and of failing to prevent exposure to substances hazardous to health under COSHH.
Two further charges were brought against the company for failing to ensure the safety of its employees, while a further charge of failing to ensure the safety of agency staff or contractors was also levied against the firm.
Councillor Cathy Martyn, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, said: “This prosecution and subsequent penalty highlights the importance of taking steps to protect the health and safety of employees and members of the public.
“The uncontrolled work activities being carried at the Cheney Manor site posed a very real risk of explosion, fire and potential long-term health conditions resulting from exposure to carcinogenic MDF dust and harmful chemicals
“The investigation also covered numerous manual handling accidents and work-place transport incidents, which resulted in injuries to employees.
“We take breaches of health and safety laws extremely seriously and I would like to praise the diligence of our Health Compliance Team for carrying out this complex investigation and highlighting this extremely bad practice. I hope it serves as a reminder to all businesses of the need to put the health and safety of their employees at the forefront of their activities.”
A JB Global spokesperson said: “Around 4 years ago, in order to support the rapid growth of the business, a small workshop where parts of our shop fittings were produced was opened. Regrettably at this time certain health and safety aspects of this new workshop were not fully understood. We fully accept we could and should have done better on this aspect of our operation. We have worked with Swindon Borough Council during the investigation and look forward to a close working relationship with them moving forward.
“We are now a very different business and since 2018 there have been substantial changes including a new CEO and senior management team. We have developed from a young entrepreneurial business into a national retailer, with health and safety a priority at all levels.
“This case related solely to past health and safety and was unconnected to the manufacture of our products. Our customers can be assured these issues have never affected the production or quality of our furniture."