work injuriesA Hereford company that produces nickel alloys has been fined after an employee suffered life-threatening injuries when he was crushed and burned by falling machinery.

37-year-old foundryman Stephen Bond-Lewis, of Hereford, was removing waste material from a metal casting machine at Special Metals Wiggin Ltd when part of it became detached, fell forward and pinned him against a nearby storage bin. The falling machinery weighed 964 kilogrammes and had a temperature of between 100 and 250°C.

A second employee, Craig Sheehan, 27, also of Hereford, severed the tip of the ring finger on his left hand in the incident, on 8 May 2009, while trying to free him.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Special Metals Wiggin Ltd, after an investigation found the method used to remove ingot moulds from the casting machine was unsafe.

Worcester Crown Court heard that it involved using overhead cranes to pull the moulds free, which damaged the bolts and their fixing points. This coupled with the company’s failure to have a proper maintenance programme in place led to the mechanical failure of the machine.

An examination by HSE inspectors of 32 other casting machines in the same part of the factory found faults in every one.

Mr Bond-Lewis suffered severe burns to 25 per cent of his body, namely his abdomen, chest and left arm, half of which were full thickness burns. He required skin grafts, while his crush injuries meant he also had to have part of his bowel removed. He had to go into intensive care and was on life support for 18 hours.

Mr Bond-Lewis, who has two young sons and twin baby daughters, will need medication for the rest of his life and suffers stomach disorders, which restrict the foods he can eat, his physical activities and his social life. He can no longer play sports or the rough and tumble games other fathers can.

He has not been able to return to work since the incident. Mr Sheehan, the other injured worker, was off work for four weeks and has since left.

Special Metals Wiggin Ltd, of Wiggin Works, Holmer Road, Hereford, was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £55,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing 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 routine maintenance checks were not being carried out.

“We also found that the operators responsible for maintaining the machines had not received training and instructions in the replacement of damaged bolts.

“This was an extremely serious incident and Mr Bond-Lewis is fortunate to be alive today. His injuries were life-changing and he has suffered physically and emotionally. He knows he will never be able to work as a foundryman again – a job that he loved.”

Mr Bond-Lewis, who was in the Royal Navy for 12 years before joining Special Metals Wiggin Ltd, said:

“This was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I used to really enjoy sport, particularly football, but I can’t play any more. All of a sudden basic everyday jobs around the house aren’t basic any more. I struggle to mow the lawn and can’t lift anything heavy. Even stretching is difficult.

“Every day is a challenge – you just don’t know what the day will bring – but I have a great deal of support from my family and a good group of friends, and if I’m feeling down all I have to do is look at the children.

“It has taken me a long time to come to terms with what has happened and the impact it’s had on me and the rest of the family, my wife in particular, but I have had a lot of help psychologically and I’m beginning to think about going back to work.

“At the moment I don’t know what that will be as I’ll never be able to do a manual job again, but I’ll just be glad to be back working.”