Employers still failing to protect workers from painful vibration injury

Employers still failing to protect workers from painful vibration injury
Employers still failing to protect workers from painful vibration injury

Employers still failing to protect workers from painful vibration injury

Vibration White Finger
A little-known workplace injury is causing pain and discomfort for an estimated 2 million people in the UK but many have no idea how they contracted the problem, and employers are failing to protect their workers.

Little known injury affects 2 million

Nimish Patel, a vibration injury expert at solicitors Roberts Jackson, comments on the needlessly high number of injuries occurring in the UK every year:

“Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is completely preventable but once a person has the symptoms, the condition is permanent.  Considering it affects 2 million workers in the UK, it’s something both employees and employers should be more aware of.”

Detailing the onset of the condition, Nimish explains:

“For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years, depending on severity and frequency of exposure.  Most workers can continue to work with Stage 2 symptoms but will struggle to work with Stage 3 symptoms.”  

Companies fined hundreds of thousands

There have been many examples of high-profile claims in the past year against companies and councils.  In 2016 two companies received hefty fines exceeding £200,000 due to their failings to protect workers from developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Nimish Patel commented:

Despite the best efforts of the Health & Safety Executive, we continue to see organisations failing in their duty to protect their employees from vibration injury, even down to the very basics such as carrying out simple risk assessments.  Employers should also keep an eye on how much time employees are exposed to vibration.  One of my clients recently won damages from his motor industry employers after they failed to carry out inspections on equipment between 1992 and 2007 and failed to monitor the employee’s workload which increased after his colleagues left and he was under pressure to cover their hours.”

Industries affected include building, grounds maintenance, forestry, engineering, mining, manufacturing and utilities maintenance.

The link between painful symptoms and the use of vibrating hand tools, especially in cold weather, was first identified by a doctor observing quarry cutters in Indiana, way back in 1918.

It took until 1985 for the illness to be defined as a prescribed disease in the United Kingdom, followed by the introduction of the Stockholm scale two years later.

What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)?

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (also known as Vibration White Finger) is a condition that is caused by excessive use of vibratory tools and causes permanent damage to the hands, fingers and arms.

Symptoms include:

  • Tingling and numbness in fingers
  • Not being able to feel things
  • Loss of strength in the hands
  • Fingers turning white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery, (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the tips at first.)

Little known injury affects 2 million

Nimish Patel, a vibration injury expert at solicitors Roberts Jackson, comments on the needlessly high number of injuries occurring in the UK every year:

“Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is completely preventable but once a person has the symptoms, the condition is permanent.  Considering it affects 2 million workers in the UK, it’s something both employees and employers should be more aware of.”

Detailing the onset of the condition, Nimish explains:

“For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years, depending on severity and frequency of exposure.  Most workers can continue to work with Stage 2 symptoms but will struggle to work with Stage 3 symptoms.”  

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is heavily associated with Hand Arm Vibration syndrome, another prescribed industrial disease, but this condition occurs in the wrist due to swelling and pressure in and around the tendons. This can also affect dexterity in sufferers and cause a great deal of pain.   This is a condition which can occur naturally and there may be other reasons for the condition arising. However, it is accepted that where there is heavy vibration exposure, this poses a significant risk for the condition.

Vibration injuries believed to affect thousands across many industries

Despite wider awareness of the potential for injury from vibration, there are thought to still be hundreds, if not thousands, of sufferers who have no idea what has caused their condition.

Some of the most notable claims for HAVS date back to the 1980’s and 90’s.  In 1997, the UK High Court awarded £127,000 in compensation to seven coal miners for vibration white finger. A UK government fund set up to cover subsequent claims by ex-coalminers had exceeded £100 million in payments by 2004.

Claims for HAVS today continue to be made against a wide variety of employers.

Companies often fined hundreds of thousands

There have been many examples of high-profile claims this year against companies and councils.  Earlier this year two companies received hefty fines exceeding £200,000 due to their failings to protect workers from developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

One company, a Pipefitters based in Newport, pleaded guilty to offences under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 after seven reported cases of Hand Arm Vibration syndrome of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  The other company, a Swedish construction firm with UK subsidiaries, was fined £280,000 for a similar situation after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Councils also fined thousands

In November, Thanet Council in Kent was the latest of a number of councils found to have failed in their duty to protect their employees from vibration injury.  Canterbury Crown Court fined the council £250,000 for breaches in health and safety leading to twelve workers developing vibration white finger.  The workers had developed the injuries after using grass strimmers for six hours a day over the period of a decade.

Training and Risk Assessments are the essentials

The Health and Safety Executive set out guidelines as regards monitoring and any exposure above 2.8ms² should be limited and stopped if above 5.0ms²  (Control of Vibration at Work Act 2005).   However, there is a risk of vibration related injury from exposure above 1.0ms² and as a result employers will request for worksheets to be completed or employees may be monitored by a computer chip on their tools to tell them when the safe levels have been exceeded.

Employers should use a points system, such as this ready reckoner to show the employee when they are being exposed to excessive exposure.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/readyreckoner.htm

Nimish Patel commented:

Despite the best efforts of the Health & Safety Executive, we continue to see organisations failing in their duty to protect their employees from vibration injury, even down to the very basics such as carrying out simple risk assessments.  Employers should also keep an eye on how much time employees are exposed to vibration.  One of my clients recently won damages from his motor industry employers after they failed to carry out inspections on equipment between 1992 and 2007 and failed to monitor the employee’s workload which increased after his colleagues left and he was under pressure to cover their hours.

I was recently successful at a contested trial where the Claimant was supposed to complete the worksheets but his managers didn’t monitor them to ensure that they were completed accurately and there was no training or instruction as to why they should limit their tool use.”

Vibration White Finger – most common disease under benefit scheme

Vibration White Finger (VWF) is the most commonly prescribed disease under the Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit (IIDB) scheme for the last ten years.

Industries at risk include:

  • Building and maintenance of roads and railways;
  • Construction;
  • Estate management (eg maintenance of grounds, parks, water courses, road and railside verges);
  • Forestry;
  • Foundries;
  • Heavy engineering;
  • Manufacturing concrete products;
  • Mines and quarries;
  • Motor vehicle manufacture and repair;
  • Public utilities (eg water, gas, electricity, telecommunications);
  • Shipbuilding and repair