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Multiple workers’ lives affected after health was 'carelessly ignored'

21 December 2015

A Merthyr Tydfil based manufacturer has been fined after 21 employees were left permanently injured after being diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

In 2011 Linde Heavy Truck Division appointed a new health and safety manager who recognised the need to put measures in place to manage HAVS, including health surveillance. These measures had not been in place before.

Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard how the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) investigation showed there had been no recognition of the risks from hand arm vibration and no effective management of these risks over many years.

A total of 21 employees were diagnosed with HAVS and this was reported to HSE under RIDDOR.

The employees that are affected by HAVS suffer symptoms such as tingling, pins and needles, numbness and pain in their hands. This affects sleep when it occurs at night and they have difficulties in gripping and holding things, particularly small items such as screws, doing up buttons, writing and driving.

The biggest impact on the employees’ lives was that the factory closed down at the end of 2013 and they were made redundant.

The duties of employers regarding hand arm vibration have been very clearly set out for many years, yet the company failed to implement the necessary measures until the risks had been identified by their new H&S manager.

HSE Inspector Helen Turner said: “The employees were exposed to the risk of hand arm vibration on a daily basis yet Linde Heavy Truck Division failed to recognise this.

“There was no health surveillance to identify employees who might already have some vibration damage even though they employed ex-miners and experienced fitters, or to pick up whether someone was suffering symptoms before they became serious.

“From 2000, when the factory opened, until its closure in 2013 there was never a fully compliant management system for hand arm vibration and 21 employees have suffered life changing injuries as a result.”

Linde Heavy Truck Division pleaded guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £50,000 and was ordered to pay £14,793.60 in costs.

Hand arm vibration is a widespread hazard for employees in many industries and occupations. It can arise from the use of hand held power tools such as grinders and hammer drills, hand guided machinery such as lawnmowers and plate compactors and hand fed machines such as pedestal grinders.

Prolonged and regular exposure to his vibration can cause irreversible damage to the nerves, blood vessels, soft tissues and bones in the hands. However the risk can be controlled and managed so that employees are protected from ill health.

Employee account 1:

“I suffer with depression. I have tingling in both hands and it feels like they are swollen. When I’m driving I can feel the tightness and sometimes I have to pull over. The cold can affect my hands and I find it difficult to write. When I was at Linde I was a skilled worker on good money. I have to declare my condition to future employers; I think my condition has hindered my chances of future work.”

Employee account 2:

“I have constant tingling in both hands, it’s like pins and needles. When it’s really cold my hands go purple and claw like. I have not worked with any vibrating tools since I finished at Linde. I thought, naively, that my condition would get better, not worse.”

Employee account 3:

“I don’t suffer during the day but I wake at night with my hands in a locked position. They are painful and tingling and I have to open and closed them until the feeling comes back. I find it difficult picking up small items such as nuts and bolts and I find it difficult to do up buttons on shirts. I really liked the type of work I used to do but now my work is not regular and I worry about the future.”

Employee account 4:

“I suffer from pins and needles and numbness in both hands all the time. When I go to pick things up I really struggle and have to really concentrate as I can’t really feel anything in the tips of my fingers. I used to ride a motorbike but I had to give this up because of the pain in my hands and I felt it was not safe to drive.”