SAFETY chiefs warned that conditions inside an Oak Furnitureland warehouse were so bad there was a real risk of explosion or fire.

The furniture firm’s parent company JB Global has been fined almost £400,000 for breaching health and safety regulations at its Cheney Manor facility.

Swindon Borough Council said it hoped the whopping fine served as a reminder to businesses of the need to put employees’ health and safety at the forefront of their minds.

The council’s compliance team launched an investigation in 2016 after a complaint from a member of staff.

Officers discovered that the company was preparing room divider sheets – typically used to partition a large room – which was not a registered activity at the warehouse.

Evidence pointed to the sheets being prepared in a highly explosive environment - a result of the glues being used and a lack of ventilation in the building.

Workers were provided with damaged or faulty face masks and conditions were so bad council officers served an immediate Prohibition Notice. Employees were exposed to cancer-causing MDF wood dust.

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The MDF cutting and sanding area Picture: SBC

The furniture firm, which is based in South Marston, pleaded guilty last summer to six breaches of health and safety regulations and failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees.

JB Global was said to have failed to log at its Cheney Manor Industrial Estate the risks to employees of areas where a dangerous substances were used, namely solvent thinners, solvent lacquers, wood dust and combustibles.

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Personal protective equipment for staff were not of the classification required and were in poor condition Picture: SBC

They were also accused of failing to classify areas where an explosive atmosphere might build up, contrary to the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002.

Sitting at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, District Judge Tim Pattinson fined the company £398,000 and ordered they pay the council’s costs of £94,409.

Reacting to the sentencing, Coun Cathy Martyn, the 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 out 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

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What Swindon council called 'inadequate' dust collection Picture: SBC

“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 spokesman for JB Global, Oak Furnitureland’s parent company, said: “Around four 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.”