Sheffield Crown Court has issued a £500,000 fine to Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions after it discovered its workers had been exposed to hand-arm vibration over a nine-year period
Sheffield Crown Court was told that workers were regularly put at risk of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) between 2002 and 2011, while operating hand-held power tools such as hydraulic breakers and floor saws.
An investigation by the HSE found the company failed in its legal duty to ensure the risks to workers who used these tools was kept to as low a level as reasonably possible.
Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions was also found to have failed to assess the risk to workers’ health, failed to put in place and monitor suitable risk control measures and failed to put in place a suitable system of health surveillance.
The company also failed to report to the enforcing authorities a significant number of cases of employees diagnosed with HAVS as was legally required.
Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as to a breach of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Christine Mellor said: “This case was about failing to protect workers. Exposure to hand-arm vibration is a well-known risk which Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Ltd. failed to adequately control.
“The company failed to heed warnings. Early health surveillance detected ill health but still this was not acted upon to prevent on-going exposure.
“This is a particularly serious case because of the extent and duration of failures. The breaches were repeated over several years and this resulted in persistent poor compliance.”
A spokesperson from Balfour Beatty said: “The shortcomings in processes identified in this case took place many years ago and were addressed prior to the start of the investigation by the HSE. The judge acknowledged both this and that there was no evidence of anyone coming to harm as a result.
“Balfour Beatty takes its responsibilities both for Health and Safety extremely seriously.”
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome is the medical term for symptoms caused by vibration damages that may occur in the fingers, hands and arms when working with vibrating tools or machinery. HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. HAVS is serious and disabling, and nearly 2 million people are at risk. Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks.