Worrying new figures reveal there has been a more than 40 per cent upsurge in recorded instances of hand-arm vibration (HAVS) non-compliances across the UK.
The Building Safety Group, the largest construction group in the UK, carried out 20,000 independent inspections of sites in 2016, and found that as well as a 42 per cent rise in the number of breaches putting employees at permanent risk of disability from over-exposure to vibration.
When the Sentencing Council upped the level of fines for non-compliant health and safety offenders in early 2016, it was thought the radical move would halt health and safety bad practice in its tracks – but the findings of the Building Safety Group and some recent high profile cases prove otherwise.
A Newport company was fined £200,000 after breaching health and safety rules which left a number of employees suffering with vibration white finger (VWF). It was found that the engineering firm had failed to give proper training or assess the risks of working with vibrating power tools for nearly a decade.
A Greater Manchester company was fined £60,000 after failing to protect its staff from injuries caused by using vibrating power tools, resulting in seven of its employees being diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
Local authorities are also falling foul of health and safety compliance. Most recently Thanet District Council was hit with fines for HAVS breaches.
The district council was fined £250,000 by the Health and Safety Executive for safety breaches which resulted in workers developing vibration white finger. The Kent authority pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, after 12 ground maintenance workers were diagnosed with VWF and another 40 were referred to occupational health.
What does the law say?
Workers are protected under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.
The Health and Safety Executive states employers are legally responsible to establish whether work-based activities are likely to exceed safe limits of vibration as well as check daily trigger time – how long they are exposed for.
The exposure limit value (ELV) – so the maximum amount of vibration an employee can be exposed to during a typical 10-hour day – is 5 m/s2 A(8).
However, the daily exposure action value (EAV) is 2.5 m/s2 A(8). Anything above this means an employer has to act.
HAVS and VWF Compensation
Hand arm vibration syndrome/vibration white finger is one of the most common causes of industrial injury compensation claims.
It will affect day-to-day living due to the loss of manual dexterity and the difficulty using fingers and thumbs. It will cause tingling and numbness in the fingers, which in turn can cause sleep disturbance.
There will be a loss of strength in the hands and in the cold and wet the fingers will go white then red and become very painful – specifically vibration white finger.
According to work injury specialist, Mark Hunter, from Liverpool based no win no fee solicitors, Mackrell & Thomas Solicitors, there are thousands of HAVS compensation claims every year.
“Most workers make compensation claims after being diagnosed with HAVS or VWF not only because of the pain and suffering, but also because the condition was brought about due to their employer’s negligence in ignoring health and safety rules.
“A great many will never be able to go back to doing their old job, and many may never be able to work again.”
“Employers should not be putting their employees at risk of permanent disability, and they should face the severest of consequences if they do.”
In summary, an employer must:
Assess the risks
Take action where necessary (hearing protection, protective clothing, upgrading old machines, enforcing respite breaks)
• Regularly monitor the daily and weekly exposure to vibration and noise
• Hold regular training for staff, keep information in plain view, and instruct on-site
• Implement health surveillance where necessary
• Keep a record of all of the above
• Review and update the documents regularly