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Vauxhall owner sentenced over Ellesmere Port death

Date:
14 August 2013

The owner of Vauxhall has been fined £150,000 over the death of a long-serving worker who was crushed in machinery at its car factory in Ellesmere Port.

General Motors UK Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after Ian Heard was found at the North Road plant on 22 July 2010. The 59-year-old from Birkenhead, who joined Vauxhall as an apprentice at the age of 16, was taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital where he died 11 days later.

Liverpool Crown Court heard today (14 August 2013) that Mr Heard had been working in the paint unit at the factory where trolleys – known as skids – carry cars through a conveyer system to be spray painted.

He had entered the part of the unit where the skids are stacked in order to try and free some after they became stuck. As he moved them the machine restarted and he was crushed.

The HSE investigation found a doorway had been created through a wall at the back of the paint unit, sometime after the machine had been installed in the 1990s, which allowed access without the power being cut.

The court was told it had previously not been possible to get to the conveyor system while it was still operating as light sensors at the front of the machine meant it stopped if a worker walked over them. There was also an access gate in the fence around the machine, which could only be opened once the power had been switched off.

A risk assessment carried out in 2000 – ten years before Mr Heard’s death – identified the potential danger posed by the new door but no further action was taken by the company. It had also become standard practice for workers to use the door to free skids when they became stuck.

General Motors pleaded guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to ensure the safety of employees, and failing to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery.

The company, of Osborne Road in Luton, Bedfordshire, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £19,654 in prosecution costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Martin Paren said:

"Ian Heard was a dedicated and loyal worker at Vauxhall for more than 40 years, but sadly he lost his life because of the company’s safety failings.

"There was absolutely no point in Vauxhall carrying out a risk assessment into the dangers posed by the machine if it wasn’t going to act on the recommendations.

"As a result workers who walked through the door to free up skids in the paint unit were put in danger for almost a decade, and one of them eventually suffered fatal injuries.

"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."

Ian’s brother, Martin Heard, added:

"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. 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."

The latest figures show 20 people were killed while working in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain in 2012/13. Information on improving safety is available at www.hse.gov.uk/manufacturing.

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk.
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
  3. Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: "Every employer shall ensure that measures are taken…which are effective to prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or to any rotating stock-bar; or to stop the movement of any dangerous part of machinery or rotating stock-bar before any part of a person enters a danger zone."

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