£100k fine for HAVS inaction

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A firm has been fined £100,000 for failing to act on warnings about dangers to workers using hand-held power tools…

Edinburgh-based firm Alexander Dennis Ltd has been fined for failing to act on multiple warnings relating to the dangers of the overuse of hand-held power tools.

The Health and Safety Executive brought charges after it found the company failed to listen to expert advice, specialist reports, and complaints of pain, discomfort, and numbness from workers. The symptoms are typical of a serious, debilitating condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

The case was brought before Sheffield Crown Court, which heard nine workers from the South Yorkshire repair and refurbishment depot had been diagnosed with HAVS in 2012.

The investigation revealed there were no restrictions in place, meaning there was uncontrolled exposure to hand-arm transmitted vibration in the case of up 25 staff. There were no restrictions on the type of hand-held power tools employees used or the length of time they were allowed to operate it.

Furthermore, the tools had not been properly maintained, meaning employees had been forced to use old or worn out tools. The firm also failed to provide information or instruction on how to minimise the risk from vibration, and there was no health surveillance programme in place to check for HAVS among employees.

The firm has now taken action to reduce the risk to employees by ensuring tools are regularly maintained, training is provided, and regular health checks are conducted.

As a result of the investigation Alexander Dennis Ltd was fined £100,000 and £18,648 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The Judge overseeing the proceedings said the company’s failings were inexplicable and said the firm was highly culpable in their failure to follow advice.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Christine Mellor said: “Alexander Dennis continually ignored their employees’ symptoms which showed they were suffering from the effects of vibration caused by the extensive use of a variety of hand-held power tools – sanders, drills, grinders etc.

“It failed to heed recommendations from consultants they had engaged to assist in managing the health risks to employees, including the advice from occupational health professionals.

“At the same time, the company was fully aware that successful civil claims had been brought by employees. Despite all this, Alexander Dennis continued to expose employees to an uncontrolled risk.

“The risks associated with the use of hand-held power tools and of developing HAVS and carpel tunnel syndrome are well recognised in the industry. There has been written guidance from HSE since 1994 and specific regulations setting out the duties of employers since 2005.

“There can be no excuse for the company’s reckless disregard for their employees’ health HAVS is a serious, permanent condition which frequently has lifelong consequences.”

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