Control of vibration risk ignored over years results in health damage
Onesubsea UK Ltd has been fined after it ignored health and safety regulations over several years, leaving several employees with disabling vibration-related disease.
Leeds Crown Court heard that between 1999 and 2010 the company (formerly known as Cameron Ltd) exposed employees to risks to their health and safety from the repeated use of hand-held power tools.
The firm manufactures parts for the worldwide oil and gas industries and at the time a significant number of workers regularly used air guns, grinders, sanders, drills and torque wrenches.
Multiple failings caused long term damage
Health surveillance identified 24 workers with symptoms of vibration-related disease during the two-year period to March 2012. Some had developed them in the late 1990s but had been given little or no health surveillance and no adequate remedial steps were taken to reduce the risks to staff.
A number of employees developed long-term damage to their circulation and nervous systems. HSE identified multiple failings namely:
- Assessment – failure to properly assess risks from use of the powered hand tools;
- Control – inadequate steps to control the risks and plan controls within a timescale;
- Design – failure to reduce vibration exposure by modifying processes or replacing tools;
- Surveillance – lack of on-going health surveillance to monitor and address risks to staff;
- Training – inadequate training and information on the safe use of tools; and
- Maintenance – failure to carry out proper maintenance of equipment.
The HSE investigation was prompted by reports received under a statutory system obligating employers to notify HSE of certain health conditions among their workforces.
HAVS is preventable ….. damage is permanent
Onesubsea UK Ltd, registered at New Bridge Street, Westminster, London, was fined £52,500 and ordered to pay £92,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector Kate Dixon said:
“A number of employees of Onesubsea UK Ltd developed debilitating symptoms or suffered worsening of existing symptoms. As a result the lives of some have been forever changed. HAVS is preventable but once the damage is done, and it can be permanent.
Focus should be placed on eliminating or controlling exposure to vibration. There are cost-effective and simple ways of reducing the risk of HAVS which should be implemented. A good health surveillance system is vital to detect signs of vibration-related symptoms at an early stage. It is imperative that management then respond actively and appropriately to any such signs.
Onesubsea UK Ltd did not comply with their statutory duties for a period of several years despite being aware of the risks associated with the use of vibrating hand tools. Their management of health and safety fell well below acceptable standards and a number of workers are now paying the price.”