Company fined for exposing workers to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

HSE is reminding companies to monitor workers’ health after a South Wales housing association was fined for exposing workers to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard that Charter Housing Association Ltd reported six cases of HAVS following a health surveillance programme launched in June 2015.

The affected employees were all part of the maintenance team. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the their conditions were likely to have been caused or worsened by the use of vibratory power tools while in Charter Housing’s employment. It was further found that staff in the maintenance and refurbishment departments at Charter Housing experienced significant exposure to hand arm vibration in their daily work, putting them at risk of developing or exacerbating existing HAVS. The investigation also found the company did not adequately plan its working methods or train or inform employees on the risks to their health. Furthermore, Charter Housing did not limit the duration and magnitude of exposure to vibration and failed to provide suitable health surveillance to identify problems at an early stage.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a serious and permanent condition caused by frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration. HAVS results in tingling, numbness, pain and loss of strength in the hands which may affect the ability to do work safely and cause pain, distress and sleep disturbance. Charter Housing Association Ltd (now part of Pobl Group Ltd) of High Street, Newport pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The company was fined £100,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £9,896.88. Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Joanne Carter said:

“An individual's health should not be made worse by the work they do. If Charter Housing had correctly implemented its health surveillance earlier, it would have ensured the right systems were in place to monitor workers’ health. The six affected employees’ conditions may have been prevented from developing or developing to a more severe stage...This case serves as an important reminder of the necessity of task based risk assessments to establish the level of exposure, control measures to reduce that exposure...and effective health surveillance systems.”

Phoenix comments:

HAVS is preventable, serious and disabling. Once the damage is done it is permanent. Nearly 2 million people are at risk.

  • What is hand-arm vibration?
    • 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 allows employers to prevent the health effects from becoming serious for employees. 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, for others it may take 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 such as assembling small components or everyday tasks such as 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 work safely
      • These effects can severely limit the jobs an affected person can do, as well as many family and social activities.

A risk assessment must be completed to ensure any risks from vibration are identified and effectively controlled.

  • The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 introduces an: Exposure action value of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) at which level employers should introduce technical and organisational measures to reduce exposure.
  • Exposure limit value of 5.0 m/s2 A(8) which should not be exceeded.

Further guidance regarding HAVs is available from the HSE: http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration