A firm where a worker lost part of his leg after being trapped underneath a half-ton metal plate has been fined a total of £766,000 by a judge.
Motor parts supplier Meridian Lightweight Technologies, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, which laid off half its workforce at Christmas, also experienced a spate of fires during 2014.
The company was sentenced today after previously admitting two health and safety breaches.
Judge Sarah Buckingham ordered the business pay costs of nearly £33,000 at the hearing at Nottingham Crown Court as well as heavily fining it for the breaches.
The firm was prosecuted after a supervisor was trapped by a half-ton metal plate that fell on his leg as he repaired a machine after one of four fires in 2014 at the Calladine Park factory in Orchard Way.
His broken limb was amputated from below the knee after he was taken to hospital.
Judge Buckingham said it was clear that the accident has had a devastating and irreversible impact on the worker’s quality of life from the moment the accident occurred.
“He now has a prosthetic leg and has to use a wheelchair when his leg is sore. He used to be heavily involved with the Army Cadet [organisation], working with them in the UK and abroad for over 25 years,” she said.
“He can no longer do that and this has, understandably, left him feeling bitter and angry because he has lost his leg, whereas before he would socialise with his friends each month, visiting bars and other public social venues. Because he feels vulnerable, he rarely goes out.
“In short, someone who was a fit, healthy and active man, used to heavy physical work and holidays has had his life turned upside down. It goes without saying that his life will never be the same again.”
The judge said the company had failed to put in place a risk assessment or a safe system of work for the repair and refurbishment of the piece of machinery he was working on, called a die cast machine, with no instructions being given about how to undertake this specific task.
“The company’s own policy was not followed, which required that all non-routine maintenance work should be subject to a risk assessment and appropriate controls agreed,” she said.
“This needed to be signed off by a supervisor or manager before work commenced.”
She fined the firm £500,000 for this breach and £266,000 consecutively for the second breach concerning repeated fires at the firm, which had a turnover in 2015 of £51 million.
The firm “failed completely to put in place a health and safety strategy throughout 2014”, said prosecutor Alexander Stein earlier this month.
Before the accident, small fires had been “common place” at the site, which makes car components using molten magnesium in die casting machines, and they were extinguished using sand in fire buckets.
Although it was not suggested there was any question the company was cutting corners, Mr Stein had said: “There was a general culture or pressure to carry on production throughout the day and make as many parts as possible.”
The firm had its own emergency response team to fight fires, paying staff an extra £12-a-month on top of their salaries, but they had not had a suitable level of training.
No strict rota governed which member of the emergency team was on duty on which shift. And during such fires the company lacked any appropriate “command and control procedures, so effectively they had no one in charge,” said Mr Stein.
A monitoring board, which showed where everyone was, who was inside the building, and how much air was left in breathing equipment during a fire, was not being used.
Since the accident, “all senior management on that site were pulled out” and the managing director dismissed, said health and safety barrister Dominic Kay, representing the business in court at a hearing earlier this month.
The company, which has made substantial improvements, lost its contract with Jaguar Land Rover and 137 people lost their jobs, leaving 90 people still in work, and a second site has to close.
Randy Chalmers, plant manager, said the firm had a clean health and safety record in 2015 and 2016.
After the hearing, he said: “Obviously the fine of £766,000 and costs is a very high number which reflects the seriousness of the offence under a previous management regime, which is no longer in place.
“The judge has taken into consideration the positive changes that have been implemented since the offences took place and that is reflected in the fines that have been imposed.
“Without those changes the fines could have been much higher. The process has been a long one and we are relieved to be able to put it behind us and focus on the future.
“We firmly believe in putting health and safety of employees first and sincerely regret one of our employers suffered significant injury in the course of their employment.
“Whilst we cannot change the past we can certainly do everything in our power to ensure that all necessary safeguards, policies and procedures are in place to prevent such an incident occuring in the future”.