Council Fined after 29 Workers Develop Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council has been fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £9,417 in costs after 29 employees were diagnosed with a debilitating condition that has left them with long-term hand issues. When employees in the Parks and Leisure Department of the council were affected by Hand Arm Vibration syndrome, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the council.

49-year-old Nick Bower, one of the council workers, developed hand problems after being the Head Green Keeper at Hoylake Golf Course for several years. His duties included regularly working with strimmers and mowers. In 2009 he was diagnosed with the condition and ever since he has had issues with dexterity and feels intense pain in cold weather.

Since being diagnosed he has changed jobs and now has duties that do not involve the use of vibrating equipment. Because of issues with blood flow to his hands and the nerve damage he has sustained, he will have to be on medication permanently. 28 other council other employees at the council also developed Hand Arm Vibration syndrome between July 2005 and December 2009.

Some of the consequences of Hand Arm Vibration syndrome are having a poor grip, experiencing numbness, tingling and suffering an acute sensitivity to cold which results in a great deal of pain. The damage it causes is largely irreversible, but the symptoms can subside somewhat once a person wth the condition isn’t exposed to vibrating tools, which was what the council workers primarily used when they worked. An investigation carried out by the HSE revealed that the council did not adequately assess the risks that the workers faced by using vibrating equipment on a regular basis. Furthermore, limiting use of such tools could have decreased the workers’ likelihood of developing the condition.

Mr Bower had this to say about the affair –

“Before I was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration syndrome, I would often use vibrating machinery for long periods of time in the course of my job. When I began noticing symptoms and went to the doctor, he immediately asked what I did for a living and made the connection.

“I still have problems with loss of feeling and find it difficult to do everyday tasks such as fastening buttons. An attack can be triggered by everyday events such as a change of temperature or even taking food out of the freezer.

“Although I no longer work with vibrating tools, I will have the condition for life – the nerve and blood vessel damage is irreversible.”

Invetsigating HSE Inspector Christina Goddard said –

“Wirral Council failed to take action to prevent damage caused by vibrating tools, with the result that 29 workers now suffer from a debilitating condition.

“The council should have limited the amount of time workers spent using vibrating equipment or provided alternative tools. If appropriate action had been taken then the workers’ condition could have been prevented.”