It’s the first prosecution HSE has taken where a worker has suffered injury from exposure to vibration. And, as is so often the case, it could and should have been avoided…
An employee of a motor company’s bodyshop suffered from HAVS, having used a range of vibrating tools over a 17 year period. He was diagnosed with early stage vibration white finger (VWF) in 2001 - his first medical examination - and despite medical warnings his workload increased along with his usage of vibrating machines and, as a consequence, his condition deteriorated. Within two years he was diagnosed as having HAVS Stage 3 in both hands and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) in both wrists.
Two Improvement Notices had been issued to the company in 2004, neither of which had been contested. A short while before the investigation process commenced the bodyshop closed. The investigating inspectors seized examples of the tools used by the employee. Subsequent tests by the Health and Safety Laboratory revealed that the employee’s daily vibration exposure had been around double (and often higher) than the 2.8 m/s2 A(8) Action level recommended in HSE guidance at the time.
The Company was fined £10,000 with costs of £ 28,000, and the case was given significant media coverage.
Following the receipt of an ill health report under the RIDDOR regulations, an investigation was carried out by an HSE Occupational Health Inspector into a case of an employee at a motor company being exposed to vibration and contracting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
The Company had considered its approach to H&S matters as being exemplary and had not anticipated that enforcement action would follow on from the RIDDOR report and in order to support the necessary enforcement action the HSE Inspector explained the different techniques for reducing exposure.
The Company had carried out some vibration measurements, but had not completed a suitable and sufficient risk assessment or established a programme of appropriate organisational and technical measures to reduce exposure to vibration to as low as is reasonably practicable. In addition it had not provided employees with adequate information and instruction. An Improvement Notice was therefore served requiring the completion of a suitable risk assessment, introduction of appropriate controls and provision of suitable information, instruction and training to employees.
The Company has replaced tools with equipment of lower vibration magnitude in some case by up to 35% lower and introduced a tool maintenance programme to help reduce risk of exposure. On discussing the impact of the Improvement Notice the Body Shop manager noted that changes implemented so far had already resulted in quality improvements, with a reduction of up to 25% in number of ‘touch ups’ and ‘re-dos’ required. Whilst evidence was anecdotal at the time of signing off the Notice, expectations were that further changes planned as a result of the Improvement Notice would result in further business benefits and efficiencies.