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RARE HAND ARM VIBRATION PROSECUTION

Fine follows failure to assess and manage vibration risk

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council council has been ordered to pay almost £35,000 in fines and prosecution costs after 29 employees were diagnosed with a hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) developed between July 2005 and December 2009.

HAVS results in poor grip, numbness, tingling and acute sensitivity to cold resulting in pain. Once the condition has developed, reducing or eliminating exposure to vibrating tools will prevent it from getting worse, but the damage is largely irreversible.

Range of vibrating machinery used

Nick Bower aged 47, one of the employees involved, began noticing problems after several years working at Hoylake Golf Course where he regularly worked with strimmers and mowers. He suffers dexterity problems and intense pain in his hands during cold weather.

Mr Bower has since changed jobs and is now undertaking work that does not involve working with vibrating machinery. He is on permanent medication to help with blood flow to his hands and nerve damage. Speaking after the hearing, Mr Bower said:

“Before I was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration syndrome, I would often use vibrating machinery for long periods of time in the course of my job. When I began noticing symptoms and went to the doctor, he immediately asked what I did for a living and made the connection.

I still have problems with loss of feeling and find it difficult to do everyday tasks such as fastening buttons. An attack can be triggered by everyday events such as a change of temperature or even taking food out of the freezer. Although I no longer work with vibrating tools, I will have the condition for life – the nerve and blood vessel damage is irreversible.”

The council workers’ duties included grass, hedge and tree cutting, primarily using vibrating equipment. A HSE investigation showed the council did not properly assess the risks they faced of using such equipment or implement suitable control measures, such as limiting exposure to the tools or providing alternatives.

Time using equipment should have been reduced or alternative tools used

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, of Brighton Street in Wallasey, was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £9,417 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

Christina Goddard, the investigating inspector for HSE, added:

“Wirral Council failed to take action to prevent damage caused by vibrating tools, with the result that 29 workers now suffer from a debilitating condition.

The council should have limited the amount of time workers spent using vibrating equipment or provided alternative tools. If appropriate action had been taken then the workers’ condition could have been prevented.”

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