£200k fine for causing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome
A business has been fined £200,000 for failing to protect two workers from an occupational hazard: Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
Ross & Catherall Ltd is a leader in the manufacture and supply of metal bars for industrial applications. Two employees carried out a range of tasks, including using vibrating tools, whilst at work. As a result, they developed HAVS.
Using vibrating tools can cause HAVS, an irreversible and life-changing condition. HAVS causes a loss of sensation in the fingers, numbness or tingling in the hands and arms. There is some evidence it can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. It is completely preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations place a legal duty on employers to assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration. The HSE provides simple free guidance for employers to ensure compliance with the law.
No risk assessment or HAVS controls
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no hand-arm vibration risk assessment in place. This would have identified what level of vibration the workers were exposed to.
Both workers used vibrating machine tools for extended periods of time, over a number of years, without adequate systems in place to control their exposure to vibration.
The HSE found that health surveillance (regular monitoring) was inadequate and was not carried out annually, which is usually recommended by health professionals as a control measure. There was no initial health surveillance assessment for new workers joining the firm.
There were also no control measures found in place to reduce exposure levels, with measures only being implemented following HSE’s intervention.
HSE inspector Lindsay Bentley said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to assess the risk from exposure to vibration, put in controls to reduce this risk and ensure that health surveillance is adequate to identify symptoms in a timely manner.”
An avoidable fine
Ross & Catherall Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £7605.37 in costs at Derby Magistrates’ Court on 17 July 2023.
The fine and associated legal, reputational costs and personal injury claims could easily have been avoided by engaging an occupational health provider to assess, monitor and mitigate the risks. The costs of doing so in advance are infinitely lower than remediation at a later date.