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Written by
on 19 August 2013


Vauxhall VictorIf you stay working with one company for long enough you’ll be certain to see some changes. Unfortunately for one worker at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port 43 years saw changes which resulted in his death.

Manufacturing Changes

Ian Heard joined the company at the age of 16 as an apprentice, and throughout 43 years of working at the same factory inevitably saw many changes, both in terms of design and manufacture. When he started working for Vauxhall they had just launched the Opel GT, and the Vauxhall Victor, the UK’s most exported car, was mid-way through its production life.

Unfortunately when a company remains based in one location for a substantial period of time it is almost certain that machinery will be replaced, manufacturing methods changed and the physical fabric of the building will be altered to accommodate new ways of working, new equipment or new regulations.

In this particular case a new doorway had been created on one side of a conveyor machine which brought cars through to be spray painted. When the spray painting machine had been first installed there was no doorway, and all appropriate health and safety procedures were installed.

These safety mechanisms involved a series of light sensors at one end so that if a worker entered the machine he or she would break these light beams, and this would result in the power being cut instantly. There was also an access hatch which when opened would also trigger a shut off of the power supply. These mechanisms meant that workers were safe and would be unable to access the machine whilst the power was on, and the power could not be restarted until the worker had exited the machine and closed the hatch.

Unfortunately though the creation of an additional doorway on the side of the machine was not in the original design, and no suitable safety precautions were introduced. A risk assessment a few years ago noted the potential danger, but no action was taken.

New Building Changes Resulted In Avoidable Death

Liverpool Crown Court heard this week that Mr Heard had entered the machine through this new doorway in order to free a blockage. He had turned the machine off to do this, but whilst he was still inside the machine it was turned back on, resulting in him being crushed to death.

The previously existing safety precautions would normally have prevented this from being possible, but since the machine was not designed to be accessed in the way the new doorway provided, no appropriate safety precautions were in place.

This highlights the need to consider very carefully all possible safety implications when carrying out changes in the workplace. These changes may include the introduction of new machines or equipment, the removal of machines or equipment, the changing of policy or procedure in the use of or handling of machines or equipment, or changes to the fabric, structure or organisation of the physical building.

If your business, company or organisation has recently, or is planning to make changes to either the building or the equipment used then it is essential to carry out a full risk assessment, and to ensure that all potential new risks are taken into account when deciding on possible new safety measures which might be needed.

For help or advice with this process, or to book a site inspection or risk assessment please call one of our professional and highly experienced Health and Safety Advisors free on 0800 1488 677.

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.