A Nottinghamshire die-casting firm has been fined after an employee suffered severe burns when he fell into a furnace.

Keith Buckley, 59, from Mansfield, was removing equipment from the top of a magnesium furnace at Meridian Lightweight Technologies (UK) Ltd in readiness for the removal of the inner lining when the incident occurred on 16 May 2011.

A pump and tube had been removed and the hole stuffed with a soft wool material. As Mr Buckley walked across the top of the furnace his right foot went through the wool into the furnace, which was running at approximately 500 degrees.

His right foot became stuck in the magnesium melt but fortunately his shoe laces burned off, enabling him to push himself up and get his foot out of his boot and his leg out of the furnace.

Mr Buckley suffered severe burns to his lower right leg and required several skin grafts. He also burned his right hand, and still finds gripping problematic. He recently returned to work on short hours and lighter duties, but is unable to do his original job.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company had a written safe system of work, but it had never been seen by the people involved in the incident.

Mansfield Magistrates’ Court heard today (25 July) the system of work required the hole to be covered by a metal plate. Supervisors had not picked up that this was not being done, but dangerous practices were allowed to continue.

Meridian Lightweight Technologies (UK) Ltd, of Calladine Park, Orchard Way, Sutton-in-Ashfield, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for safety failings. The company was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,472.

After the hearing HSE inspector Sian Tiernan said:

“This incident would never have happened if procedures had been effectively communicated and followed. Mr Buckley is very fortunate. If he hadn’t managed to release his foot from his boot his injuries would have been far worse, possibly even fatal.

“Just because procedures or safe systems of work are written down does not mean they are being followed. It is vital companies ensure employees have not only been trained in relevant safe systems of work but follow them. Measures must be in place to monitor work practices through effective supervision to ensure short cuts or dangerous acts or omissions are picked up before serious incidents occur.”