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VIBRATION RISK LEFT UNASSESSED AND UNCONTROLLED

Carpal tunnel syndrome prompts construction firm prosecution 

C J Gowing and Son Ltd has been prosecuted after a construction worker developed a painful and debilitating nerve condition through prolonged, unrestricted use of vibrating power tools.

Andrew Wood, aged 35, is likely to suffer chronic pain in both hands for the rest of his life as a result of work between July 2010 and March 2012. He was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome which required surgery.

Brighton Magistrates heard that his work involved extensive use of vibrating power tools, including hydraulic breakers, to break out concrete floors and foundations. HSE established that:

  • Assessment – risk from using vibrating tools for prolonged periods was not assessed; 
  • Control – measures e.g. limiting use, were not implemented to control the risk; and
  • Health surveillance – was not undertaken to identify the problem before it became acute.

Despite several operations Mr Wood can no longer lift heavy objects or do everyday tasks like turn the pages of a book or open a bottle. The father of four is unable to work as a result.

Excavation and work at height issues also uncovered

The court was told that in his dealings with HSE, Mr Wood provided photographs of other failings by the company, including images of a site foreman working from a pallet raised to a roof line by a forklift truck.

The firm also allowed unsafe work at height and failed to support the sides of a deep excavation, which could have collapsed – as revealed in photographs taken by Mr Wood.

Both these and his photos of an unsupported excavation were accepted as evidence of further safety breaches.

Risks from hand held breakers must be assessed

C J Gowing and Son Ltd, of Sharlands Lane, Blackboys, East Sussex, pleaded guilty to four separate breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and single breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was fined a total of £45,000 and ordered to pay a further £4,670 in costs.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Amanda Huff said: 

“Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful and debilitating condition that Mr Wood need not have developed had his health and his use of vibrating tools been properly monitored and controlled.

The onus is on employers like C J Gowing to fully consider the risks arising from prolonged use of equipment like hand held breakers, and to ensure their workforce is adequately protected.

That didn’t happen here and Mr Wood now faces a lifetime of discomfort.”

 

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