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VIBRATION RISKS IGNORED BY FIRM FOR MANY YEARS

HAVS sufferers highlight the full impact on their lives

Linde Heavy Truck Division Ltd of Merthyr Tydfil has been fined after 21 employees were left permanently injured after being diagnosed with hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

The firm appointed a new health and safety manager in 2011 who recognised the need for measures to manage HAVS, including health surveillance. These measures had not been in place before.

Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard how HSE investigation showed there had been no recognition of the risks from hand-arm vibration and no effective management of these risks over many years. A total of 21 employees were diagnosed with HAVS which were reported to HSE under RIDDOR.

Person affected by HAVS suffer symptoms such as tingling, pins and needles, numbness and pain in their hands. This affects sleep when it occurs at night and difficulties in gripping and holding things, particularly small items such as screws, doing up buttons, writing and driving.

Hand-arm vibration is a widespread hazard for employees in many industries and occupations. It can arise from the use of hand held power tools such as grinders and hammer drills, hand guided machinery such as lawnmowers and plate compactors and hand fed machines such as pedestal grinders.

Compliant HAVS management system absent

Linde Heavy Truck Division Ltd pleaded guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £50,000 and was ordered to pay £14,793.60 in costs.

HSE Inspector Helen Turner said:

“The employees were exposed to the risk of hand arm vibration on a daily basis yet Linde Heavy Truck Division failed to recognise this.

There was no health surveillance to identify employees who might already have some vibration damage even though they employed ex-miners and experienced fitters, or to pick up whether someone was suffering symptoms before they became serious.

From 2000, when the factory opened, until its closure in 2013 there was never a fully compliant management system for hand arm vibration and 21 employees have suffered life changing injuries as a result.”

Employee account 1:

“I suffer with depression. I have tingling in both hands and it feels like they are swollen. When I’m driving I can feel the tightness and sometimes I have to pull over. The cold can affect my hands and I find it difficult to write. When I was at Linde I was a skilled worker on good money. I have to declare my condition to future employers; I think my condition has hindered my chances of future work.”

Employee account 2:

“I have constant tingling in both hands, it’s like pins and needles. When it’s really cold my hands go purple and claw like. I have not worked with any vibrating tools since I finished at Linde. I thought, naively, that my condition would get better, not worse.”

Employee account 3:

“I don’t suffer during the day but I wake at night with my hands in a locked position. They are painful and tingling and I have to open and closed them until the feeling comes back. I find it difficult picking up small items such as nuts and bolts and I find it difficult to do up buttons on shirts. I really liked the type of work I used to do but now my work is not regular and I worry about the future.”

Employee account 4:

“I suffer from pins and needles and numbness in both hands all the time. When I go to pick things up I really struggle and have to really concentrate as I can’t really feel anything in the tips of my fingers. I used to ride a motorbike but I had to give this up because of the pain in my hands and I felt it was not safe to drive.”

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