CAR manufacturer Vauxhall has been fined £150,000 after a worker was crushed to death at its Ellesmere Port factory.

Ian Heard, from Birkenhead, was severely injured at the plant on July 22, 2010, after he had gone to unblock a piece of machinery while the power was still on.

The 59-year-old was taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital where he died 11 days later.

Mr Heard's brother Martin today said he was disappointed the fine was not more substantial and does not feel justice has been done.

A hearing at Liverpool Crown Court today was told how it had become “custom and practice” for employees to carry out the dangerous process and that supervisors were aware of it.

Maintenance electrician Mr Heard, who joined the company as an apprentice aged 16, had been working in the paint unit at the factory where trolleys – known as “skids” – carry cars through a conveyor system to be spray painted.

Craig Morris, prosecuting, said Mr Heard entered part of the unit where the 150kg-skids are stacked in order to try to free some after they had become stuck.

However as he moved them the machine restarted and he was crushed.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found a doorway had been created through a wall at the back of the paint unit following the installation of the machine in the early 1990s, which allowed access without the power having to be cut.

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 the skids when they became stuck.

General Motors UK 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.

As well being handed a £150,000 penalty, it was also ordered to pay £19,654 in prosecution costs.

Harry Vann, defending, said: “It’s a matter of very sincere regret that GM UK has lost one of its employees.

"He joined in 1968 and enjoyed a long and dedicated career at the company and was a well-liked and valued employee.”

Mr Vann added the company was making “substantial losses” and the Ellesmere Port plant was kept open 18 months ago “by the skin of its teeth.”

Judge Robert Trevor Jones said: “It’s remarkable that this practice didn’t come to the attention of senior management as it was certainly known to supervisors who tolerated, if not endorsed it.”

He commended the firm on its otherwise “excellent” safety record but added: “As an enterprise of such a scale, the company cannot realistically claim to be impoverished at least in this context.”

Speaking after the hearing, Martin Heard’s said: “In the context of the size of the company, I thought the fine would be bigger and I am a little disappointed.

"I’m not angry at all - but I don’t feel that justice has been done here.

"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."

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 2010, then Mr Heard’s life could have been saved.”