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Firm fined for vibrating tool failings

18 October 2013

An East Sussex worker developed a painful and debilitating nerve condition through prolonged, unrestricted use of vibrating power tools, a court has heard.

Andrew Wood, 35, from Heathfield, is likely to suffer chronic pain in both hands for the rest of his life as a result of his work for C J Gowing and Son Ltd between July 2010 and March 2012.

The family-run construction company was prosecuted yesterday (17 October) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found there was no control of vibration risks and no health surveillance.

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.

Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard that his work for C J Gowing and Son involved extensive use of vibrating power tools, including hydraulic breakers, to break out concrete floors and foundations.

A sensation of pins and needles in his hands intensified over time and by March 2012 the pain was so severe he was unable to sleep. He was subsequently diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, which required surgery. Despite several operations he 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.

HSE established that his employer had not assessed the risks of using vibrating tools for prolonged periods, and had failed to implement any control measures, such as limiting use of hydraulic breakers and the like. Inspectors also found that he had received no health surveillance during his employment. Had his health been routinely monitored, his condition could have been identified before it became acute.

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.

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

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.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Regulation 5(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 states: “An employer who carries out work which is liable to expose any of his employees to risk from vibration shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health and safety of those employees and the risk assessment shall identify the measures that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations.”
  3. Regulation 6(1) states: “The employer shall ensure that risk from the exposure of his employees to vibration is either eliminated at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.”
  4. Regulation 7 covers health surveillance. Full details here: Reg 7
  5. Regulation 8(1) states: “If (a) the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk to the health of his employees who are, or who are liable to be, exposed to vibration; or (b) employees are likely to be exposed to vibration at or above an exposure action value, the employer shall provide those employees and their representatives with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.
  6. Regulation 31(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 states: “All practicable steps shall be taken, where necessary to prevent danger to any person, including, where necessary, the provision of supports or battering, to ensure that (a) any excavation or part of an excavation does not collapse; (b) no material from a side or roof of, or adjacent to, any excavation is dislodged or falls; and (c) no person is buried or trapped in an excavation by material which is dislodged or falls.”
  7. Regulation 7(2) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005: “An employer shall select work equipment for work at height which (a) has characteristics including dimensions which (i) are appropriate to the nature of the work to be performed and the foreseeable loadings; and (ii)allow passage without risk; and b) is in other respects the most suitable work equipment.”

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