Metals giant Tata Steel has been fined £200,000 after three employees were seriously burnt when tonnes of molten metal spilled on to a factory floor and ignited.
Swansea Crown Court heard on 16 February that a 300-tonne ladle dislodged and spilled the material, which then caught fire, at Tata Strip Products in Port Talbot on 2 April 2013.
While operating an electric overhead crane, trainee crane driver Kelvin Watts from Port Talbot picked up the ladle full of molten metal and asked for confirmation that one of the hooks was properly attached as the crane’s camera system was not working.
When he was alerted by the plant control room that the hook was not fully attached, he stopped the crane and put it into reverse, but the ladle dislodged.
Fire broke out from the spillage and reached the cab of the crane, resulting in burns to Watts and two colleague trainers as they tried to escape from the top of a crane and over the boom.
Watts suffered severe burns on his head and forearms and spent several days in hospital. He has suffered repeated infections in the burns since and has been unable to return to work.
The two trainers, also from Port Talbot, were less severely burnt. Although they are back at Tata, neither can face driving the cranes or entering the area where the incident occurred.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted the company for safety failings.
The court was told the crane’s camera system had not been operating properly for some time. Despite being reported on near-miss forms and pre-use checks, it had still not been repaired. The lighting, which employees stated was poor, cut out completely during the incident as did the control systems.
Tata has now installed a new camera system, improved lighting and managers now scrutinise all pre-use checks. If the camera system fails, spotters are put in place to ensure crane hooks are properly latched to ladle handles.
On top of the fine, Tata was also ordered to pay costs of £11,190.
HSE inspector Joanne Carter said: “There was clear evidence at Tata Steel of poor maintenance, inconsistent training and managers misunderstanding the problems faced by operators.
“The incident could have been avoided had the safety measures introduced afterwards been in place at the time.”