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HAND ARM VIBRATION HARM RISK MISSED

Damage and fine highlight need to assess and act on HAVS risk

GKN Aerospace Services Ltd has been prosecuted for failing to comply with regulations on vibration for at least six years thereby leaving a group of employees with permanent nerve damage.

Portsmouth Magistrates heard (25 March) that five workers based at premises on Isle of Wight were left with long-term damage to their circulation and nerve systems after developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Those affected developed advanced symptoms after prolonged use of vibrating hand tools during the building of engine casings.

The circulation problems cause their hands become white and ‘dead’ in the cold with extreme pain on warming. The nerve damage affects their ability to carry out finer tasks needing dexterity, meaning they lack grip and can often drop objects.

HSE found that the company had failed to comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations since they became law in January 2006.

health surveillance programme identified five employees suffering advanced debilitating problems in 2009. However, the company failed to assess the risks and put controls in place to protect the significant number of remaining workers.

HSE ordered the company to make improvements as well as starting legal proceedings

Timely and effective measures are required

GKN Aerospace Services Ltd of Ferry Road, East Cowes, was fined a total of £26,800 and ordered to pay full costs of £8,256 after admitting four breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 between July 2005 and December 2011. The company was fined £3,400 for each of the two earlier offences and £10,000 for each of the later offences.

Regulation 5(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 requires assesment and Regulation 6(1) requies action to eliminated or reduce to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

After the hearing, Anne Bartlett, HSE Specialist Inspector in Occupational Health, said:

“Work-related health risks cannot be ignored or pushed down the agenda. GKN Aerospace Services Ltd had the resources to protect its employees from the well-known effects of exposure to hand-arm vibration but failed to do so over an extended period.

As a result, five employees developed debilitating symptoms which affect all aspects of their lives, and are unlikely to ever improve. Although most of them were redeployed, the company still failed to assess the risks and implement suitable measures to protect the remaining staff until HSE stepped in at the end of 2011.

Employers must take timely and effective measures to ensure that the health of their staff is not seriously and permanently affected as a result of the work they do.

The most efficient and effective way of controlling exposure to hand-arm vibration is to look for new or alternative work methods which eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration.”

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