An international aerospace company based in Hampshire has been prosecuted after 13 employees were found to be suffering varying degrees of a debilitating nerve condition.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Vector Aerospace International Limited, of Gosport, after investigating reports that workers were being diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
In total, 13 cases emerged of employees who had worked at the same site for between five and 45 years. Two of them were diagnosed at Stage 3 – showing the most severe and painful symptoms.
Portsmouth Magistrates were (3 Nov) told that Vector Aerospace, which has a workforce of some 2,700 internationally and 1,100 at Gosport, had surveyed the tools being used by workers in 2007. At that stage they had taken the decision that no controls were needed.
As a result, and despite later reviewing their risk assessment, that error was not identified and the recognised risks of vibration from the use of around 1,600 tools by 400-450 employees on the site was never controlled. The absence of mitigating measures for the workers led to some being exposed to vibration levels likely to have exceeded the legal limits.
HSE also found that the staff on site using such tools had not been provided with any information or training about the risks posed from the work they were carrying out. The 13 cases were identified in 2013/14 after improved health surveillance was eventually introduced.
The court heard that serious cases of HAVS result in circulation problems, leaving hands white and dead in the cold and with extreme pain on warming. Nerve damage means those affected find it hard to carry out finer day-to-day tasks needing dexterity and grip.
Vector Aerospace International Ltd of Fleetlands, Fareham Road, Gosport, Hampshire, was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay £2,514 in costs after admitting three charges under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Alec Ryan said:
“Vector Aerospace had the resources to protect its employees from the well-known effects of excessive exposure to vibration but failed to do so over a significant number of years.
“As a result, 13 employees developed symptoms of HAVS which can affect all aspects of their lives. HSE’s intervention in 2013 was as a result of the company bringing in health surveillance for the first time. Although this identified these cases, it came too late for these workers.
“The company failed to assess the risks and implement the necessary controls. Employers have a duty to provide effective measures to ensure the health of their staff is not seriously or permanently harmed by the work they are asked to do.”
Information and advice about vibration at work can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration
Notes to Editors:
- 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
- Regulation 5(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 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.”
- Regulation 8(1) of the same Regulations 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.”