A judge has fined Poundstretcher £65,000 after describing working conditions in one of it’s warehouses in Stamford as a “disaster waiting to happen.”
Passing sentence at Lincoln Crown Court today (Friday), Recorder Stephen Lowne said it was a “miracle” no member of staff had either been hit or submerged by stock at the company’s Stamford warehouse on the Markham Retail Park, off Ryhall Road.
The court heard an Environmental Health inspector from South Kesteven District Council visited the premises in June last year after receiving a telephone call from an employee who was concerned about overstocking levels and boxes blocking fire exits.
Timothy Pole, prosecuting, said the inspector immediately saw goods piled high and walkways that were narrow and obstructed.
The store manager admitted overstocking was an ongoing issue which she had e-mailed head office about on a number of occasions, the court heard.
Mr Pole said part of the problem seemed to be that store managers did not have the power to refuse deliveries.
Further inspection of the mezzanine level of the warehouse raised other concerns with poor lighting, trip hazards and a risk of stock falling from height.
Some stock was also left outside and on a second visit three pigeons we’re found inside the warehouse with some fouling, the court was told.
Two improvement notices were served on Poundstretcher, which the company cooperated and immediately complied with.
The court heard Poundstretcher had been prosecuted for similar breaches at the same premises in 2011.
Simon Bickler QC, mitigating for Poundstretcher, said there was no financial motive for conditions at the warehouse which they admitted were “wholly unacceptable.”
Mr Bickler explained the company employed 6,000 people with an operating profit of just £1.3 million and said distribution to it’s 395 stores was a very difficult logistical operation.
He added there was a system in place for store managers to contact their area manager who could then place the store on “self allocation” for stock and told the court the area manager involved in this case had now left the company.
Mr Bickler said the pigeon problem was quickly resolved.
Poundstretcher Limited admitted two contraventions of Health and Safety regulations and one breach of duty to employees following the inspection on 6 June, 2014.
They were fined £65,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,968.
Passing sentence Recorder Lowne said it was one of the worst cases of it’s type he had come across.
“The risks were so obvious it was astonishing it was allowed to get to this stage,” he added.
“It is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Speaking after the hearing Martin Collinson, company secretary for Poundstretcher, said: “We totally accept the judge’s comments, this was totally unacceptable for our staff, customers and the public, but there was no financial benefit to the company for the conditions in this store.
“Our health and safety manager has now revamped our policy throughout our whole estate.”