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15 January 2015
The director of a wood recycling plant in Northamptonshire has been given a suspended prison sentence after being prosecuted by the Environment Agency for failing to comply with safety regulations and ignoring warnings about fire risks and pollution.
From May 2012, his company in Wellingborough chipped and sorted waste wood, but did so without a written management system in place, and the site soon accumulated a huge volume of waste wood without any fire breaks installed.
The Environment Agency repeatedly asked for adequate management and emissions plans but when these were produced in April 2013, they were not followed.
Over that time, two fires started on the site, one of which firefighters struggled to get to because of the amount of material littering the site. The company further breached its permit by not preventing wood particles from chipping activities escaping from the site and polluting neighbouring properties.
The court was told that the company director had a history of non-compliance and that the notice had been served to ‘prevent the acceptance, shredding, pulverising and chipping of wood to prevent the serious risk of pollution from fire’.
The director admitted failing to minimise the risks of pollution and emissions and was given a six month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months. He was also put under a one-month curfew, to be monitored with an electronic tag, and ordered to pay £1800 in costs to the Environment Agency. The company went into administration in September 2013.
The judge said the director had 'put his head in the sand”, adding: “There were a number of issues with the site with waste being stored for more than three months, water cannons not used effectively and fire breaks not properly installed. The temperature of the waste was not properly monitored to locate hot spots.”
After the hearing, an Environment Agency officer said: “This prosecution was entirely avoidable had the company complied with our advice. We repeatedly tried to help it comply with its permit but despite many visits and much advice, little was changed.
“Waste sites have a duty to ensure that their operations are managed properly to ensure they do not present a risk to neighbouring companies, nor to the environment. If they refuse to comply, or deliberately ignore advice supplied by site Inspectors, they may be prosecuted and risk going to jail.”
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.