Firm fined £40,000 after failing to conduct health surveillance
A civil engineering firm based in Wakefield has been fined after seven workers contracted Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) because of their work.
Family-owned firm Peter Duffy Limited employs 190 people working on infrastructure projects, mostly in the North of England. The business pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £40,000 and also ordered to pay £3,919 in costs.
The Court heard that following the appointment of a new occupational health provider in 2016, seven workers were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibrations Syndrome (HAVS). All had been involved in work using vibrating tools, some for over 20 years.
What is HAVS?
HAVS stems from using hand-held power tools and can cause significant illness (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints). It is entirely preventable, however, once damage is done it is permanent.
Symptoms include tingling and numbness in fingers, loss of feeling, loss of grip strength and blanching of the fingers. The syndrome used to be called “white tip finger”.
The condition can be difficult to monitor because HAVS can be caused quickly in some people and may take years for others. Regular monitoring at defined intervals (based upon risk levels) is essential to prevent the condition.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 applies to all UK employers to prevent HAVS. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has a free guide with more information, including how to protect workers.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Chris Tilley said: “The company should have undertaken a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify the level of vibration employees were exposed to throughout their working day and then put in place appropriate control measures.
“Furthermore, the company should have put in place suitable health surveillance to identify HAVS in their workforce”.
The full costs
Although the £40,000 fine is a huge sum of money, the real costs will be tied up in settling the personal injury claims.
The legal costs, even when liability is admitted, are very likely to dwarf the fine. The full settlement costs, when agreed, will undoubtedly dwarf the legal fees in turn too.
Most UK commercial insurance polices will not pay out if laws have been broken too, so the business is very likely to be paying for a long time to come.
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