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Amazon fined 65,000 for attempting to ship dangerous goods by air

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24 September 2016

Online shopping giant Amazon has been fined 65,000 in the UK after being found guilty of attempting to ship dangerous goods by air.

The retailer was convicted at Southwark Crown Court earlier this week on four counts of causing dangerous goods to be delivered for carriage in an aircraft, in breach of air safety regulations.

The items included lithium ion batteries and flammable aerosols, which were destined for flights within and outside the UK in four shipments between January 2014 and June 2015.

They were only discovered when the cargoes were screened by Royal Mail ahead of their intended departures and seized before they could reach the aircraft.

The prosecution for the dangerous goods found in Amazon UK Services shipments was brought by the Civil Aviation Authority under the Air Navigation (Dangerous Goods) Regulations 2002, which outlines how such items must be handled when transported by air.

This includes how they must be classified, packed, marked, labelled and documented - as well as the dangerous goods training which must be completed by the people sending them.

The court heard Amazon tried to ship a lithium ion battery to Jersey on a day before 7 January 2014, and a flammable gas aerosol to Romania on a similar date.

Another shipment, destined for Ireland on a day before 17 July  that year, contained another aerosol, while Amazon illegally tried to send two more lithium ion batteries to Northern Ireland between  May  and  3 June  last year.

Amazon had faced 11 counts relating to the shipment of dangerous goods by air.

It was cleared of one charge while another six will stay on file after the jury was unable to reach a verdict on them.

Amazon said the safety breaches were "inadvertent" breach of rules and were "neither willful nor reckless", a result of misclassification caused by human error.

But Martin Goudie, prosecuting on behalf of the Civil Aviation Authority, said there was a potential risk if the items had ended up being carried on a plane, and that strict regulations and Amazon's own safety rules meant it was not merely a "speculative risk".

He told the court, "Under the right circumstances the batteries, even new, undamaged batteries, could overheat, potentially causing burns, explosion or a fire."

Amazon was fined after it was revealed that the UK subsidiary had a turnover of just under 1 billion in 2015, with a profit of 38 million.

Sentencing the firm, judge Michael Grieve QC said while there were "few and comparatively minor contraventions" he had to take into account the "massive resources of the company".

He said, "In my view the jury's verdict reflects a finding of systemic failure, albeit as a result of human error."

The prosecution was brought by the CAA under the Air Navigation (Dangerous Goods) Regulations 2002, which outlines how such items must be handled when transported by air.

This includes how they must be classified, packed, marked, labelled and documented - as well as the dangerous goods training which must be completed by the people sending them.

From 2013 Royal Mail sent letters to Amazon warning about possible breaches of the rules.

Goudie said the breaches were indicative of a "system error" within Amazon, because the system that determined if goods should be classified as dangerous  was allowed to rely on incorrect information.

He said, "You can't blame the human within Amazon if they are not being provided with the ability to know what they are actually dealing with."

But Stephen Spence, defending, denied there were systemic failings, saying if there were, then many more failings would have likely been discovered.

Amazon has no previous convictions or cautions, he said, is at the forefront of pushing safety standards and that other much smaller companies have made much larger mistakes.

He said, "Amazon is not a company that has sat back and done nothing. It is certainly not a company that was blind to the potential problems."

Spence added, "We are not talking about Amazon lugging a propane canister onto a plane. They are everyday household items, and one should pay perspective to that."





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