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Construction Firm Fined For Vibrating Tool Failings

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Andrew Wood a 35 year old father of four from Heathfield in East Sussex, is likely to suffer chronic pain in both hands for the rest of his life as a result of his work for the family-run construction company C J Gowing and Son Ltd.  Mr Wood developed a painful and debilitating nerve condition as a direct result of prolonged, unrestricted use of vibrating power tools between July 2010 and March 2012 and has been left unable to work.

GrinderBrighton Magistrates’ Court heard that the work Mr Wood undertook for C J Gowing and Son involved extensive use of vibrating power tools, including hydraulic breakers, to break out concrete floors and foundations.

Mr Wood developed a sensation of pins and needles in his hands which intensified over time and, by March 2012, the pain was so severe he was unable to sleep.  He was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, which required surgery.  However, despite several operations, Mr Wood can no longer carry out everyday tasks like turning the pages of a book, opening a bottle or lifting heavy objects.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that C J Gowing and Son had not assessed the risks of using vibrating tools for prolonged periods and that they had failed to implement any control measures.  Inspectors also found that the company allowed the unsafe practice of working at height and that employees’ health had not been routinely monitored.  If Mr Wood’s health had been routinely monitored (referred to as 'health surveillance'), the condition could have been identified in its earlier stages and perhaps treated.

The company was prosecuted on 17 October 2013 by the HSE after an investigation found there was no control of vibration risks and no health surveillance.

C J Gowing and Son Ltd pleaded guilty to separate breaches of Regulations 5(1), 6(1), 7 and 8(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and single breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.  They were fined £45,000 and ordered to pay £4,670 in costs.

What is hand-arm vibration?

Hand-arm vibration is vibration that is transmitted into your hands.  This can come from use of hand-held power tools, hand-guided equipment, or by holding materials that are being worked by hand-fed machines.

Too much exposure to hand-arm vibration can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)?

HAVS affects the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of your hand, wrist and arm and can cause serious incapacitation if it is ignored.  It includes vibration white finger (VWF), which can cause severe pain in the fingers that it affects.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder that can cause pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in parts of your hand and this condition can also be caused by exposure to vibration.

What are the early signs and symptoms?

  • Tingling and numbness in your fingers, which may cause sleep disturbance.
  • Loss of sensation in your fingers.
  • Loss of strength in your hands (ie. being less able to pick up or hold heavy objects).
  • In cold and wet weather, the tips of your fingers turn white and then red and are painful as they recover (vibration white finger).
  • Difficulty picking up small objects.

If you continue to use high¬ vibration tools with these symptoms, they will probably get worse.  For example, the numbness in your hands could become permanent or the vibration white finger symptoms may happen more frequently and affect more of your fingers and to a greater extent.

When are you at risk?

You are at risk of developing these conditions if you regularly use hand-held or hand¬ guided power tools and machines such as:-

  • Concrete breakers and/or concrete pokers;
  • Sanders, grinders and/or disc cutters;
  • Hammer drills;
  • Chipping hammers;
  • Chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers or powered mowers;
  • Scabblers and/or needle guns.

You are also at risk if you hold workpieces that vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders.

Your employer has a duty to protect you from being harmed at work.  Therefore, if you or someone you know are diagnosed as suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, hand-arm vibration syndrome or vibration white finger as a result of being exposed to vibrating tools at work, you may be able to make a claim for compensation.

Contact David Eade on 01302 308673 or davideade@hlwkeeblehawson.co.uk for advice on making a claim for compensation.

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