A 49-year-old furnace operative was severely injured after an explosion at a Rotherham steel plant in March 2012.
The worker was kept in intensive care in a specialist burns unit and in an induced coma for three weeks. His injuries were so extensive that he required numerous skin grafts and reconstructive surgery to his eyes, ears and forehead.
Two other employees suffered minor injuries.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident uncovered significant safety breaches.
The HSE revealed that a control system fault caused 25 tons of molten metal to escape from the furnace. The operative and a colleague began to hose the molten metal with water in line with usual practice. However, when the water made contact, there was an explosion. This is a well known risk in the steel industry.
Sheffield Crown Court heard that a few weeks before the incident a fire had damaged the furnace controls and an electrician had made a temporary fix. This was then removed as it was believed the control fault had been rectified.
Before the explosion, molten metal poured into a ladle device under the furnace which activated an alarm, locking the furnace. An employee attempted to activate the emergency release but this failed and 25 tons of molten metal continued to spill.
The court was told that the company had no safe procedures in place to deal with molten metal spills and consequently put their workers at significant risk.
Sheffield Crown Court fined the firm a total of £180,000 and ordered to pay £82,979.26 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
HSE Inspector Denise Fotheringham said :
“The company’s business is to make steel, but they had no procedures for dealing with these spillages, leading to employees using hoses to cool the metal. This was very dangerous but the scale of risk had not been recognised by workers, who had received no other information or instruction on what to do.”
“The resulting explosion was massive and a man nearly lost his life. He remains badly-scarred by what happened that day.”