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Long term failings led to long term damage for workers

Date:
25 March 2013

GKN Aerospace was prosecuted today (25 March) for failing to heed safety regulations for at least six years, leaving a group of employees with permanent nerve damage.

Portsmouth Magistrates were told that five workers based at GKN on the Isle of Wight had been left with long-term damage to their circulation and nerve systems after contracting hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

The workers, who have asked not to be named, developed advanced symptoms of the well-known condition after prolonged use of vibrating hand tools, used as part of their work building engine casings at the GKN plant in East Cowes.

Their circulation problems mean their hands become white and dead in the cold, with extreme pain on warming. The nerve damage affects their ability to carry out finer tasks needing dexterity, meaning they lack grip and can often drop objects.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated and brought the prosecution, found that the company had failed to comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations since they became law in July 2005.

The court heard that a GKN health surveillance programme identified the five employees as suffering advanced debilitating problems in 2011. However, the company continued as before and still failed to assess the risks and put controls in place to protect the significant number of remaining workers.

GKN’s safety failings came to light after it fulfilled its statutory obligation to report the diagnoses to HSE. Following the HSE investigation an Improvement Notice was served on GKN giving the company a timeframe to make specified improvements.

GKN Aerospace Services Ltd of Ferry Road, East Cowes, was fined a total of £26,800 and ordered to pay full costs of £8,256 after admitting four breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 between July 2005 and December 2011. The company was fined £3,400 for each of the two earlier offences and £10,000 for each of the later offences.

After the hearing, Anne Bartlett, HSE Specialist Inspector in Occupational Health, said:

"Work-related health risks cannot be ignored or pushed down the agenda. GKN Aerospace Services Ltd had the resources to protect its employees from the well-known effects of exposure to hand-arm vibration but failed to do so over an extended period.

"As a result, five employees developed debilitating symptoms which affect all aspects of their lives, and are unlikely to ever improve. Although most of them were redeployed, the company still failed to assess the risks and implement suitable measures to protect the remaining staff until HSE stepped in at the end of 2011.

"Employers must take timely and effective measures to ensure that the health of their staff is not seriously and permanently affected as a result of the work they do.

"The most efficient and effective way of controlling exposure to hand-arm vibration is to look for new or alternative work methods which eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration."

For information and guidance on hand-arm vibration, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/index.htm.

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. www.hse.gov.uk
  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) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 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."

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