David Stampe was injured while operating a compactor with 35 tons of force at the Furniture Village warehouse in Wednesbury.
A safety feature that would have prevented the incident had been removed on the orders of the company, a judge heard.
The item’s manufacturer agreed to the move when heavy furniture was being fed into the apparatus, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.
But 12 months before the accident its usage had changed to the crushing of polystyrene, plastic and other packaging, which were lighter than the furniture, leading to regular blockages, said Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting on behalf of Sandwell Council.
But the safety device – guards that prevented people getting into the machine while it was on – was still not deployed.
Mr Stampe, who had five years experience at the warehouse, had turned the power on after removing a jam when colleagues dumped plastic into the machine.
He could see this was snagging and climbed back in to clear it on June 1, 2013.
“It was still switched on and his legs were crushed,” continued Mr Jackson.
Staff heard screams and rushed to help the victim, it was said. He was the first employee to require medical treatment after being hurt by the compactor but workers told investigators of other near-misses.
Mr Jackson said: “There was a high risk of injury or death.” Dr Dominic Swan, a specialist health and safety advisor, said the accident would have been avoided if the missing safety feature had been installed.
Mr Peter Smith, for the firm, said it had realised five years earlier people were getting into the compactors and had banned the practice when the power was on but accepted bosses could have made more regular checks to ensure rules were followed.
Mr Smith said: “They did not know the system in place was either not being adhered to or not being implemented at the Wednesbury site.”
Furniture Village Ltd admitted breaking health and safety laws by not having safe working practices and were fined £266,667 with £31,000 costs. The victim made a complete recovery.