Businesses up and down the country need to be fully aware of the potential injuries individuals can receive from the prolonged use of equipment that vibrates, such as hand-arm vibration.
Legislation to be aware of
Businesses have a range of legislatory responsibilities they must uphold at all times to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees, with compliance to The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 the most applicable to the use of vibrating equipment in the workplace.
It aims to put in place measures to reduce the likelihood of staff suffering instances of back pain from whole-body vibration, as well as providing guidelines for the appropriate use of this type of equipment.
Advice to employers
Businesses must ensure they maintain the wellbeing of their staff when it comes to the use of equipment that has the potential to cause long-term harm and any machinery that vibrates has the potential to do this if proper checks and measures are not implemented.
This means keeping appropriate records of the length of time individual staff members use this type of equipment, as well as putting in place measures to ensure staff are not overly exposed to vibration, such as work rotas and limits.
Health and safety training in the appropriate use of machinery that could cause vibration injuries should also be provided by the employer to all individuals expected to use this type of equipment as part of their duties.
The HSE highlights the most common forms of equipment that can lead to long-term vibration injuries for staff, including chainsaws or hedge trimmers, jackhammers, sanders, grinders or disc cutters, needle guns, powered mowers and hammer drills.
In addition, the organisation has drawn attention to the early symptoms all workers and businesses must be aware in the development of vibration injuries, such as numbness or tingling in the hands or limbs, loss of strength in grip, as well as fingers becoming white then red in cold conditions (vibration white finger).
An example of failings
In October last year, the HSE successfully prosecuted an Essex-based company after a member of staff was shown to have developed a painful and debilitating nerve condition after a prolonged and unrestricted use of vibrating power tools.
Andrew Wood, a 35-year-old construction worker from Heathfield, was diagnosed with the condition Carpal tunnel syndrome and is now likely to suffer from chronic pain in both hands for the rest of his life.
He had been working for family-run construction business C J Gowing & Son when his condition was diagnosed.
Brighton Magistrates Court was told how an investigation by the HSE revealed there was no control of vibration risks and no health surveillance for staff at the business, despite the fact Mr Wood regularly used vibrating tools and other equipment that had the potential to cause long-term injury.
As a result, Mr Wood now finds it difficult to complete basic everyday tasks like turning the page of a book, with his condition also meaning he now has trouble sleeping as a result of the pain in his hands.
The company pleaded guilty to four breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and single breaches of both the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
C J Gowing was fined GBP 45,000 for its failings and was also ordered to pay prosecution costs totalling GBP 4,670.
Following the hearing, HSE inspector Amanda Huff commented: “Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful and debilitating condition that Mr Wood need not have developed had his health and his use of vibrating tools been properly monitored and controlled.
“The onus is on employers like C J Gowing to fully consider the risks arising from prolonged use of equipment like hand held breakers, and to ensure their workforce is adequately protected.
“That didn’t happen here and Mr Wood now faces a lifetime of discomfort.”