A company providing specialised services in rock drilling, cliff stabilisation and rock anchors, and its director, have been sentenced after a number of workers were diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
The Court heard how three employees had developed and reported symptoms of HAVS but no action was taken. The employees used tools such as rock drills and jack hammers for cliff stabilisation work which is often carried out by abseiling down a cliff and using the tools horizontally while working from ropes. The affected persons began to experience symptoms such as pins and needles and aching hands, in one case since 2000. An occupational nurse was employed in 2016 and the HAVS problem was identified.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the risk assessment did not identify the actual exposure to vibration and had used out of date vibration data. The investigation also found there was no health surveillance in place until 2016 and employees were not made aware of HAVS and its symptoms. When symptoms were reported, the company had failed to take action.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and has been fined £36,667 and ordered to pay costs of £3,560.
The director of the company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He has been given a 12 week custodial sentence, suspended for one year, a 12 week curfew and ordered to pay costs of £3,560.
Speaking after the hearing, the HSE inspector said: “This was a case of the company and its director completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS risk assessment and health surveillance.
“If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers health and the employees’ conditions would not have been allowed to develop, one of which was to a severe, life altering stage.”
ADVICE FOR EMPLOYERS
The information below will help you understand:
- What you may need to do as an employer under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 which came into force in July 2005;
- How you can protect your employees from hand-arm vibration.
This information will be of interest to you if you are an employer whose business involves the use of hand-guided powered equipment and powered machines which process hand-held materials and of particular interest if your business involves the regular and frequent use of hand-held power tools.
You may also find these pages helpful if you are:
- An employee, or self-employed person, who uses vibrating equipment;
- A trade union safety representative or an employee representative;
- An adviser on occupational vibration risks.
If your workers use vibrating equipment you may also have to consider risks from exposure to noise http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/index.htm).
By law, as an employer, you must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration so that you can protect your employees from risks to their health.
Where the risks are low, the actions you take may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, you should manage them using a prioritised action plan to control exposure to hand-arm vibration.
Where required, ensure that:
- Control measures to reduce vibration are properly applied; and
- You provide information, training and health surveillance.
Review what you are doing if anything changes that may affect exposures to vibration where you work.
The Health effects of hand-arm vibration at work
What is hand-arm vibration?
Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted from work processes into workers’ hands and arms. It can be caused by operating hand-held power tools, such as road breakers, and hand-guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by machines, such as pedestal grinders.
When is it hazardous?
Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can lead to permanent health effects. This is most likely when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular part of a person’s job. Occasional exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.
What health effects can it cause?
Hand-arm vibration can cause a range of conditions collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), as well as specific diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
What are the early symptoms?
Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important. It will allow you, as the employer, to take action to prevent the health effects from becoming serious for your employee. The symptoms include any combination of:
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers;
- Not being able to feel things properly;
- Loss of strength in the hands;
- Fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the tips at first).
For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years. They are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration and may become permanent.
What effects do these symptoms have?
The effects on people include:
- Pain, distress and sleep disturbance;
- Inability to do fine work (eg assembling small components) or everyday tasks (eg fastening buttons);
- Reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions (ie most outdoor work) which would trigger painful finger blanching attacks;
- Reduced grip strength, which might affect the ability to do work safely.
These effects can severely limit the jobs an affected person is able to do, as well as many family and social activities.
Do you have a hand-arm vibration problem at work?
This will depend on whether your employees regularly and frequently work with vibrating tools and equipment and/or handle vibrating materials. It will also depend on how long your employees are exposed to vibration and at what level. As a simple guide you will probably need to do something about vibration exposures if any of the following apply:
- Do your employees complain of tingling and numbness in their hands or fingers after using vibrating tools?
- Do your employees hold work pieces, which vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders?
- Do your employees regularly use hand-held or hand guided power tools and machines such as:
- concrete breakers, concrete pokers
- sanders, grinders, disc cutters
- hammer drills
- chipping hammers
- chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers
- powered mowers
- scabblers or needle guns
- Do your employees regularly operate:
- Hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or
- Some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day.
- Do you work in an industry where exposures to vibration are particularly high, such as construction, foundries, or heavy steel fabrication/shipyards?
Which jobs and industries are most likely to involve hand-arm vibration?
Jobs requiring regular and frequent use of vibrating tools and equipment and handling of vibrating materials are found in a wide range of industries, for example:
- building and maintenance of roads and railways
- estate management (eg maintenance of grounds, parks, water courses, road and rail side verges)
- heavy engineering
- manufacturing concrete products
- mines and quarries
- motor vehicle manufacture and repair
- public utilities (eg water, gas, electricity, telecommunications)
- shipbuilding and repair
What kinds of tools and equipment can cause ill health from vibration?
There are hundreds of different types of hand-held power tools and equipment which can cause ill health from vibration. Some of the more common ones are:
- concrete breakers/road breakers
- cut-off saws (for stone etc)
- hammer drills
- hand-held grinders
- impact wrenches
- needle scalers
- pedestal grinders
- power hammers and chisels
- powered lawn mowers
- powered sanders
- strimmers/brush cutters
Do you engage in routine continual monitoring or logging of workers’ vibration exposure?
8 Questions (and answers) about Vibration Exposure Monitoring:
For more information on the above, visit the HSE web page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.