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July 24, 2013

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Worker suffered burns to a quarter of his body

A metals manufacturer has been ordered to pay more than £170,000 in fines and costs after a worker suffered severe burns to 25 per cent of his body.

Stephen Bond-Lewis was working for Special Metals Wiggin Ltd when the incident took place, on 8 May 2009, at its factory in Hereford.

The 37-year-old was removing waste material from a metal-casting machine — a process that involved hitting the machine with a metal bar — when part of the machine became detached and fell forward, crushing him against a storage bin. The falling machinery weighed 964kg and had a temperature of between 100°C and 250°C.

A colleague, Craig Sheehan, 27, severed the tip of his ring finger while attempting to free him.

Mr Bond-Lewis suffered severe burns to his abdomen, chest and left arm, and required skin grafts. As a result of the injuries from the crush he also had to have part of his bowel removed, and has not been able to return to work since the incident.

An investigation by the HSE discovered that the method used to remove the ingot moulds from the casting machine was unsafe. Of the four bolts holding the machine together two were already broken, and the other two were either loose, or badly fitted. The HSE discovered that the combination of temperature, the age of the machine and the force generated by hitting the machine caused it to fall.

It examined 32 other casting machines in the same part of the factory and found that they all had similar faults, including missing bolts, bolts of the wrong size, and incorrectly fitted nuts.

The investigation discovered that there hadn’t been a planned periodic maintenance programme in place since 2001, and the maintenance for the bolts had become the responsibility of the foundrymen, who had received no instruction or training.

HSE inspector Luke Messenger said: “The company failed to make sure there were suitable safe systems in place for removing moulds from its casting machines. Yanking moulds free with the crane caused damage to bolts and their fixings and directly resulted in the collapse of the machine.

“The fixing bolts on a large number of casting machines were in poor repair, but this had not been spotted, or put right because maintenance checks were not being carried out. This was an extremely serious incident, and Mr Bond-Lewis is fortunate to be alive today.”

Special Metals Wiggin Ltd appeared at Worcester Crown Court on 22 July and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £55,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) HSWA 1974.

In mitigation, the company said it had no previous convictions, entered an early guilty plea and cooperated with the HSE investigation. Following the incident, independent engineers examined the machines and there was a complete overhaul of the equipment. The company has also appointed a dedicated maintenance team.

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