GENERAL Motors has been fined £150,000 after an electrician was crushed to death at its Ellesmere Port plant.
Ian Heard died at the new paint unit on North Road on July 22, 2010, after going into a machine while the power was still turned on.
Last Wednesday, Liverpool Crown Court heard that the dangerous process was ‘custom and practice’ at the site and was known of and approved by managers and supervisors at the car plant.
Speaking after the hearing Mr Heard’s brother, Martin Heard, said: “My brother worked at Vauxhall for 43 years and was looking forward to retirement. He was loyal to the company and to his colleagues.
“This loyalty and Vauxhall’s neglect of its basic duty of care to the workforce cost my brother his life.”
Craig Morris, prosecuting, told the court that 59-year-old Mr Heard, a maintenance electrician who had worked at the company since he was a teenager, was crushed between a roller and four heavy metal frames, known as “skids” which are used to carry car shells through the painting machine.
As he moved the 150kg skids the machine restarted and he was fatally injured, dying in hospital 11 days later.
The machinery was installed in 1990 and originally had two fail-safe features which would have prevented the accident but these were bypassed when a door was cut allowing direct access inside it.
A risk assessment carried out 10 years before Mr Heard’s death uncovered the danger but nothing was done to remedy the situation.
GM UK Ltd pleaded guilty to two breaches of health and safety regulations by failing to ensure safety of employees and failure to prevent access to dangerous parts of their machinery.
Harry Vann, defending, said: “This is the UK company that is making substantial losses. It only has two plants, in Luton and Ellesmere Port. It was only 18 months ago that Ellesmere Port was at risk of closing and was just kept alive by the skin of its teeth.”
But Mr Morris said that at the time of the accident the plant had 2,100 employees producing 187,000 cars a year and the company’s turnover in 2012 was £3.5bn.
Martin Heard added: “Commercial pressure should not be a consideration where safety of staff is concerned. This prosecution and substantial fine should serve as a reminder to companies large and small that they have responsibilities to look after the safety of those they employ.”
HSE inspector Martin Paren said: “The company has now installed a new safety system on the door which means power to the machine has to cut before the door can be opened. If this system had been in place in July 2010 then Mr Heard’s life could have been saved.”