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Sandwell MBC -v- Furniture Village Limited (“FV”) (2018) Wolverhampton Crown Court; HHJ Ward

Peter Smith defends in Health and Safety case. 

Sandwell MBC -v- Furniture Village Limited (“FV”) (2018) Wolverhampton Crown Court; HHJ Ward

An incident took place on the 1st June 2013 at FV’s Wednesbury depot when an employee became trapped in a compactor machine which he had got into so as to deal with a blockage. On this occasion he had not isolated the machine having done so earlier on a similar blockage. The machine could be isolated without removing the electric cable / plug.

The investigation revealed that prior to this incident employees had been getting into the compactor to deal with blockages without isolating the same from late 2008 although FV had a set procedure for isolation which had been introduced in August 2008. The core failure was in not monitoring and enforcing the procedure at all during this period.

FV originally faced 7 charges but by the time of the first appearance at the Magistrates’ only the section 2(1) offence under the 1974 Act remained. 

A feature of the case was whether lids to the hopper should have been fixed as an industrial standard. It was not clear that such lids, although an additional safety feature, could be said ubiquitous in industry.

The parties agreed that FV should be categorised as a Large organisation given that its turnover in 2017 was just short of £240 million.

The prosecution submitted that culpability was high with level A harm risked and a high likelihood of that level A harm arising. This said the prosecution, placed any fine in the bracket between £1.5 million and £6 million, with a starting point of £2.4million.

Following submissions, the learned judge determined that culpability was between medium and high although a Level A harm risked but with a medium likelihood.

In the result, having accepted that the Guidelines were malleable and with clear overlaps, a starting point of £800,000 was found which was reduced to £500,000 for the compelling mitigating features. The judge further reduced the fine by £100,000 under Step Three due to the gross disparity between turnover and profit as well as some unique financial features, leaving a sum of £400,000. Full credit for the Guilty plea was given leaving a fine of £266,667 with 12 months to pay.        

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