Engineering firm fined after exposing workers to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

An engineering firm has been fined for failing to control the risk to employees using hand held power tools from Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).

Manchester and Salford Magistrates heard how Newfield Fabrications Co Ltd (NFCL) failed to ensure the risks to its employees from exposure was adequately controlled. The company also failed to ensure its employees were given sufficient information, instruction and training on the effects of working with vibrating hand tools.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that sometime towards the end of 2015, a welder who had been working at the company for a number of years had been given a job that involved a significant amount of grinding and polishing. After a number of hours on the task, the worker began to experience numbness and tingling. He asked to swap with another worker but was told to carry on. Whilst his symptoms continued he was told by his supervisor to carry on using vibrating tools. A few weeks later, a 20 year old apprentice welder also began to suffer from vibration-related symptoms from using similar tools.

Newfield Fabrications Co Ltd of Sandbach, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 6(1) and 8(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The company has been fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £7,241 costs.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Helen Jones said:

“This is a case of the company failing to protect workers using vibrating tools. Exposure to hand arm vibration is a well-known risk which the company failed to adequately control. “The company also failed to ensure workers were looked after when symptoms did arise leading to further exposure. This was wholly inadequate, and led to two employees suffering significant health effects.”

Phoenix comments:

Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints). HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. HAVS is serious and disabling, and nearly 2 million people are at risk. Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important. It will allow employers to take action to prevent the health effects from becoming serious. 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. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations require employers to assess the risks, ensure legal limits of vibration exposure are not exceeded, take action to reduce vibration exposure, provide information and training to employees, carry out health surveillance where there is a risk and keep a record of risk assessments and control measures. The HSE provide guidance in the Hand-arm vibration L140 booklet, available from http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l140.pdf