15 January 2013
A Merseyside council has been sentenced after 29 employees were diagnosed with a debilitating condition that has left them with ongoing problems with their hands.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council after workers in the Parks and Leisure Department were affected by Hand Arm Vibration syndrome.
One of the workers, Nick Bower, began noticing problems with his hands after several years working as Head Green Keeper at Hoylake Golf Course, where he regularly worked with strimmers and mowers.
The 47-year-old was diagnosed with the syndrome in 2009, and suffers dexterity problems and intense pain in his hands during cold weather.
Mr Bower has since changed jobs and is now undertaking other duties for the authority that do not involve working with vibrating machinery. He is on permanent medication to help with blood flow to his hands and nerve damage.
Wirral Magistrates’ Court heard today (15 January 2013) that Mr Bower is one of 29 employees at the council to have developed the condition between July 2005 and December 2009.
Hand Arm Vibration syndrome results in poor grip, numbness, tingling and acute sensitivity to cold resulting in pain. Once the condition has developed, reducing or eliminating exposure to vibrating tools will prevent it from getting worse, but the damage is largely irreversible.
The council workers’ duties included grass, hedge and tree cutting, primarily using vibrating equipment. A HSE investigation showed the council did not properly assess the risks they faced of using such equipment or implement suitable control measures, such as limiting exposure to the tools or providing alternatives.
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, of Brighton Street in Wallasey, was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £9,417 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Bower said:
"Before I was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration syndrome, I would often use vibrating machinery for long periods of time in the course of my job. When I began noticing symptoms and went to the doctor, he immediately asked what I did for a living and made the connection.
"I still have problems with loss of feeling and find it difficult to do everyday tasks such as fastening buttons. An attack can be triggered by everyday events such as a change of temperature or even taking food out of the freezer.
"Although I no longer work with vibrating tools, I will have the condition for life – the nerve and blood vessel damage is irreversible."
Christina Goddard, the investigating inspector for HSE, added:
"Wirral Council failed to take action to prevent damage caused by vibrating tools, with the result that 29 workers now suffer from a debilitating condition.
"The council should have limited the amount of time workers spent using vibrating equipment or provided alternative tools. If appropriate action had been taken then the workers’ condition could have been prevented."
Almost two million people in the UK work in conditions where they are at risk of developing Hand Arm Vibration syndrome. Information on preventing the condition is available at www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav
Notes to editors
- The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to prevent 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. www.hse.gov.uk
- 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."
- Regulation 6(1) of the same Regulations 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."