HSE is reminding companies of their responsibility to monitor workers’ health after a South Wales court handed out a £100,000 fine to an employer for exposing workers to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard how Charter Housing Association Ltd had 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 & Safety Executive (HSE) found the six workers’ conditions were likely to have been caused or worsened by the use of power tools while in Charter Housing’s employment. It was also 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 HAVS or exacerbating an existing case.
The investigation also found the company did not adequately plan its working methods, nor train employees in the use of tools or inform them of the risks to their health.
Charter Housing did not limit the duration and magnitude of exposure to vibration and failed to put in place suitable health surveillance to identify problems at an early stage.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a serious and permanent condition caused by regular and frequent exposure to vibration, often from electric or pneumatic tools. HAVS results in tingling, numbness, pain and loss of strength in the hands. It can affect a person's ability to work safely. It can also 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 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.
“How people work today can affect their health and wellbeing tomorrow," said Joanne Carter.
This case serves as an important reminder of the necessity of task-based risk assessments to establish the level of exposure to risks, followed by the implementation of control measures to reduce exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. It is also important to introduce effective health surveillance systems. In the case of Charter Housing this realisation came too late.
“All employers need to do the right thing to protect workers’ health,” said Joanne.