Thanet District Council in Kent have been fined a quarter of a million pounds after an employee was diagnosed with Hard Arm Vibration (HAV) Syndrome.
The council was also found to have breached their Health and Safety obligations through various omissions, and the Health and Safety Executive made investigations into how Thanet District Council operated, and identified numerous concerns.
A number of failings were identified:
- Workers were typically using power tools and equipment that vibrated for up to 6 hours a day;
- There was no health surveillance, so management had no idea what was happening to the workers;
- There were no means for workers to report any injuries or symptoms;
- No steps taken to assess and eliminate or reduce exposure to risk of harm were taken;
- No training was provided for workers to make sure they were handling work equipment in a safe and proper manner. This included lack of training for workers to control the use of drilling machines or any other vibrating equipment.
If Thanet District Council had implemented the above, the HAV syndrome suffered by the employee could easily have been prevented or at least drastically reduced in severity. HAV, also known as vibration white finger, or dead finger, is a very serious condition. Unfortunately, the syndrome is often permanent and is known to cause symptoms for life, such as:
- Pins and needles;
These symptoms are made much worse when considering that the pain and discomfort will not get better. They may occur at any time and last for any length of time too.
Since they often occur at night or at rest, sufferers may suffer sleep problems and seemingly never get any decent rest. These symptoms can affect every-day life as even gripping and holding items becomes a stressful task. Things like turning screws, buttoning a jacket, using utensils, writing and driving, and other such basic things we often take for granted can all become troublesome labours.
During the HSE’s investigations, Thanet District Council were prompted to start implementing Health and Safety Measures.
For the Council’s multiple failings, Canterbury Crown Court found them liable of breaching the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations, and Thanet District Council was ordered to pay a fine of £250,000 plus an additional £18,000 in costs.
At the close of the investigation, HSE inspector Mike Walters expressed his dismay at Thanet District Council’s failings. He pronounced that HAV was a serious disease that affects both work life as well as everyday life.
The most distressing element of the Council’s wrongdoing may be that “it is entirely preventable but once the damage is done it is permanent”, said Walters. The fact that it took at least one worker to develop the life altering disease to prompt the Council into acting is really quite upsetting. Hopefully, Thanet District Council will learn from this and use it as motivation to make sure they comply with all Health and Safety rules at work to make sure their workers are provided with a safe environment.
Walters hopes that this case will spread the message to all other companies and authorities who employ manual workers. Simple and good regulatory steps are all that is needed to prevent permanent damage and hefty fines.