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UK Health & Safety Executive fines two companies for wood dust failures

17 October 2023

The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) fined two separate companies in October for safety failures relating to exposing workers to excessive wood dust. A furniture company based in Northwich has been fined £16,000 for repeatedly failing to protect employees, while a Lincolnshire-based sole trader was fined around £1,300 and ordered to pay over £3,500 in court fees.

Image: HSE
Image: HSE

Pineland Furniture Ltd, a furniture company based in the Chesire town of Northwich, was inspected by the HSE on two separate occasions over a two-year period – with both identifying identical breaches.

Nathan Cook, HSE senior enforcement lawyer, told Chester Magistrates Court, how a visit in December 2019 found significant breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) – resulting in six improvement notices being served. These included requirements for the company to undertake statutory examinations of its wood dust extraction systems and to undertake face fit testing for those employees required to wear tight fitting face masks.

However, another visit to the same premises in November 2021 found identical breaches and again improvement notices were served. This inspection came as part of HSE’s national campaign targeting woodworking businesses. The significant occupational health risks associated with wood dust and the continued failure to ensure control of exposure to wood dust resulted in HSE prosecuting the company.

Pineland Furniture Limited pleaded guilty to breaching regulations 7(1) and 9(2)(a) of COSHH. They were fined £16,000 and was ordered to pay £3,008 costs at a hearing at Chester Magistrates Court on 11 October 2023.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Ian Betley said: “Wood dust is a substance hazardous to health because it can cause serious non-reversible health problems, including asthma; dermatitis; and irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

“Occupational lung disease causes the death of 12,000 people in Great Britain annually, and there are an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems each year, where individuals regarded their condition as being caused or made worse by work.

“It is important to carry out statutory thorough examinations of extraction equipment and ensure face fit testing, as required by COSHH to help prevent ill health. We will not hesitate to take enforcement action when necessary to make sure workers’ health is protected.”

Elsewhere, the HSE also prosecuted Chris Buckley, trading as The Furniture Chest, after the workplace regulator inspected the firm’s site in Heckington, Lincolnshire on 7 April 2022.

HSE inspectors found a significant build-up of wood dust and that Local Exhaust Ventilation systems, provided to capture wood dust and protect employees, had not been thoroughly examined and tested.

A subsequent HSE investigation found Chris Buckley had failed to prevent or adequately control employees’ exposure to wood dust and had failed to ensure that Local Exhaust Ventilation systems had been thoroughly examined and tested. Improvement Notices had been served in relation to the control of wood dust at previous inspections. Buckley pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 7(1) and 9(2) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. He was fined £1,354 and ordered to pay costs of £3,578 at Boston Magistrates’ Court on 9 October 2023.

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