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An engineering firm has been ordered to pay fines of more than £190,000 after 24 of its workers were exposed to high levels of vibration for several years, resulting in debilitating nerve conditions.
As a result of the conditions, (Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) some of the workers cannot return to the profession they are highly skilled in.
It was discovered that the workers and an occupational health professional had raised existing medical concerns over the vibration hazard, however the company chose to ignore the information and did not implement controls to protect the health of their workers.
The Court heard that a risk assessment of the company’s tools identified that some equipment, such as grinders, posed a high risk from exposure to vibration. However, this equipment was not taken out of service and no controls were put on their use until four years later when the HSE intervened.
The investigation revealed some employees used their own tools, these had not been risk assessed and therefore no controls put in place.
Health surveillance for employees was insufficient in that the procedure failed to identify symptoms early and refer individuals to occupational health specialists for timely diagnosis and management.
Speaking after the hearing, an HSE inspector said: “The Company was regularly being made aware that employees were suffering from vibration-related symptoms. They were being supplied with this information directly from staff and from their occupational health nurse. However, they chose to ignore this information and allowed employees to work unrestricted with high risk tools, or their own tools.
“The company was slow to implement improvements even after HSE’s involvement and had to be issued with an improvement notice to ensure compliance.
“Adequate assessment of the risk from vibration, provision of tools with lower vibration levels, and a good system of work would have ensured workers were not over-exposed to vibration. A better health surveillance system would also have identified problems earlier, and symptoms could have been managed to prevent them getting worse.”
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