Multi-million pay-out for vibration white finger

A district council has been fined £250,000 for Health & Safety failings after 12 grounds maintenance workers were found to have the condition vibration white finger.

The injury is brought on after continued use of vibrating equipment over long periods. Vibration white finger is also called hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). It affects the blood vessels, nerves, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm. Symptoms include tingling, pins and needles, pain and numbness. Sufferers have difficulty gripping and holding things.

Thanet District Council was investigated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) after a worker was diagnosed with HAVS. Further cases of ill-health from exposure to vibration were then identified.

More than 40 workers were discovered to have been exposed to “unacceptable levels” of vibration caused by repeated use of vibrating equipment such as mowers and grass strimmers.

“Systematic failure”

The court heard 12 of the workers had typically used power tools for six hours a day for up to ten years.

The council had not removed or controlled its workers’ exposure to HAVS. No risk assessments on vibration were carried out and senior staff failed to act on reports until an employee was diagnosed with the problem. The court was told “This was a systematic failure by the council to protect the interests of their workers. Nothing was done in relation to training or risk assessment.”

The council had not educated workers on the risk of handling vibrating tools or showed them how vibration exposure could be controlled. There was also no health surveillance in place.

Council bosses issued an “unreserved apology” to the workers for breaching Health & Safety regulations on vibration white finger.

Sentence

The council admitted breaking the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 which require employers to reduce workers’ exposure to vibration to as low a level as “reasonably practicable”. It was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,000.

The HSE said the industrial injury is “entirely preventable but once the damage is done it is permanent. Any business, council or employers can learn from this case. If you have workers who use heavy machinery you need to ensure you properly manage the risks from HAVs, control or eliminate the exposure and train them so they can identify the symptoms.”

The sentence paves the way for dozens more former workers with the condition to sue Thanet District Council. The total pay-out could run into millions of pounds and the council’s cash reserves are already reported to be dangerously low.

Contact Ellis Whittam to properly manage the Health & Safety risks faced by your workers.

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