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Kent firm in court after decade of ignoring risks to workers

Date:
22 July 2014

A Ramsgate company has been sentenced after one of its employees was left with a severe long-term disability following prolonged working with a range of vibrating machine tools.

A further four employees of Cummins Power Generation Ltd were also diagnosed with symptoms consistent with early stage Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), a debilitating condition that cannot be reversed.

The firm was prosecuted for safety breaches after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was made aware of the high incidence of HAVS among its staff.

Canterbury Magistrates’ Court today (22 July) heard that Cummins Power Generation had failed to manage the exposure of their employees to the serious risks of vibration for more than ten years.

As a result one employee in particular was diagnosed with advanced HAVS in both hands.  Although he still works with the company he has to ask for the help of a colleague whenever a task requires the use of a hand-held power tool. He is also unable to enjoy previous hobbies of golf or swimming.

HSE found the company failed to assess their workers’ level of exposure to vibration until HSE began its investigation. By this time some employees were either at or beyond the trigger levels for developing symptoms. The firm also failed to put preventative measures in place until HSE served an improvement notice.

Cummins Power Generation Ltd, Columbus Avenue, Manston, Ramsgate, Kent, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £49,149 in costs after admitting a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Alison Benfield said:

“HSE guidance on HAVS was published as long ago as 1994 so vibration risk has been widely known for many years – ‘white-finger’ was a common industry term for HAVS.  Cummins Power Generation failed to manage this risk over a significant period of time, from early 1998 to early 2009, across its sites in both Ramsgate and Margate.

“Hand-arm vibration can have a significant impact on a worker’s health. If the use of power tools is not controlled correctly by engineering and manufacturing companies, workers can develop HAVS to a degree that will have a permanent disabling impact on their working and social lives.

“Measures can include purchasing tools with the lowest vibration levels, introducing better systems of work when possible to avoid exposure all together, making sure workers know how to use tools properly and regular health surveillance to detect any early signs.”

For information about HAVS, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/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. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

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