Machinery vibration causes harm to workers
This unfortunate workplace injury case has left three workers with permanent medical conditions. It is an opportunity to warn all those involved in construction safety, where similar injuries can easily be caused by using vibrating machinery unless the proper precautions are taken. HSE estimates put the numbers of those at risk from using such machines whilst as work as high as nearly two million.
Babcock Flagship Ltd was the company contracted for the large-scale grounds maintenance at the naval base HMS Raleigh in Torpoint, Cornwall. The company did carry out periodic checks on its workforce, via health surveillance reports made between 2009 and 2011.
Pre-existing medical conditions ignored
These reports showed that each of the three (unnamed) men suffered from vibration-related medical conditions (or they had health issues that vibration could worsen).
Despite these dagnoses, the company did not take any steps to control the men’s exposure to vibration. These could have included –
- Supplying alternative machinery
- Reducing the workers’ exposure to the then-current machines
Matters came to a head in January 2012 when occupational health specialists found that all three of the men had either Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. These are permanently debilitating nervous system conditions that affect their work prospects and their personal life.
The problems were brought on by long-term use of machines like hedge cutters and strimmers, often for a full working day. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 is the applicable legislation, which requires suitable and sufficient risk assessments and which states:
Employers must ensure that the risk from exposure to vibration is either eliminated at source, or where this is not practicable, reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
Because Babcock Flagship did not carry out a sufficiently rigorous assessment, and did not follow through with protection for the workers, it was fined £10,000 plus £10,000 in costs at Truro Magistrates Court.
Construction safety implications
Because there is a lot of attention within building safety upon falls from height and other headline injuries, probably not enough notice is paid to the statistics of this issue. HSE says that nearly half of the ill-health reports that they receive are to do with Hand Arm Vibration and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome due to vibrating tool use.
Of course in construction the main tools may differ – we may be more often talking about sanders, breakers and hammer drills, for example – but they are none the less risky machines to be using and the appropriate safeguards must be observed. No-one should be using them for long periods at a stretch.
If you want to learn more about hand arm vibration, visit www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav. For general hands-on site assistance with all matters relating to construction safety, request a call from McCormack Benson Health & Safety.