When you are managing a business’s Health and Safety, it’s not just the immediate visible risks which need to be considered, but also the unseen or cumulative risks, which can often result in much broader issues impacting a volume of your workforce.
A Nottinghamshire Aerospace Engineering Company appeared in Nottingham Crown Court on 21st July to answer charges raised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concerning breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The HSE prosecuted SPS Aerostructures Ltd after the workers developed either Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome from being exposed to high levels of vibration for several years at the company’s premises in Annesley.
Developed Symptoms Can Provide Long-Term Impact on Employees
The symptoms of HAVS syndrome include blanching and numbness in the fingers, especially in the cold, as well as pins and needles, which can be extremely painful.
This is due to damage to the small blood vessels and nerves supplying the hands.
Sufferers can have difficulty picking up small objects and performing tasks such as doing up buttons.
As sufferers cannot be exposed to cold without pain, it can restrict some work and hobbies such as fishing, cycling or gardening.
Sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome also experience pain and pins and needles, especially at night, and a reduction in grip.
An operation is usually needed to release the nerve, although this is less successful if they have been exposed to vibration.
The court was told some of the employees at SPS Aerostructures Ltd had to undergo operations. Some had to be removed from the work they were doing.
One was given work without any vibration exposure but was later made redundant. As a skilled metal sheet worker, he is now unable to work in this field.
Risk highlighted “High Risk” exposure to Vibration in 2006
The issue dated back to 2005 when the company’s Health and Safety Committee asked the business to carry out a suitable risk assessment for exposure to vibration and take any appropriate actions arising from the report.
An assessment of the Company’s tools duly took place in 2006, which highlighted the fact that some tools, including hammers, grinders and drills, posed a high-risk exposure to vibration.
However, they were not taken out of service and remained in use, and no controls were put in place on their use until 2010.
Employees Also Used Own Tools
The court also heard that employees were allowed to operate their own tools, none of which were assessed or appropriate controls put in place.
The HSE investigation found that SPS did provide some health surveillance for its employees. However, this was not deemed sufficient to identify symptoms early, which would have enabled referral to specialist occupational health experts.
£190,000 in Fines and Costs after Guilty Plea
SPS Aerospace Ltd admitted two breaches of the Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined a total of £125,000 and ordered to pay £65,805 in costs.
The HSE confirmed that almost two million people in the UK are at risk of developing vibration-related ill health such as HAVS and carpal tunnel syndrome.
This highlighted the importance, not only of appropriate and timely risk assessments, but also the systems and processes to follow up and remove any hazards. HSE Inspector, Dawn Smith, confirmed:
“Adequate assessment of the risk from vibration, provision of tools with lower vibration levels, and a good system of work would have ensured workers were not over-exposed to vibration.
A better health surveillance system would also have identified problems earlier, and symptoms could have been managed to prevent them getting worse.”
Risk Management and Health & Safety
Managing risk to the public, clients and your employees is critical to any business, particularly as a result of the ever-increasing regulation and legislation.
A robust Health and Safety and Risk Management programme is a vital tool in reducing risk (and in turn your Business Insurance premiums!).
Your Insurance Company or Broker should also be able to provide documentation and support around best practice and risk assessments, we would also suggest visiting the excellent HSE Website for more information on vibration and HAVS http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav .
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