County council fined £50k over Hand Arm Vibration issues in highways department

Lancashire County Council has been fined £50,000 after several employees carrying out work in its highways department developed Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVs).

Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard that, in February 2019, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) received a RIDDOR report from the council, relating to the diagnosis of a case of HAVs.

An improvement notice was served on the council in July 2019 requiring it to improve its control of HAVs.

However, subsequent to this, a further ten cases of vibration-related ill-health, unrelated to the RIDDOR report, were uncovered and reported late, the HSE said. Four more reports were also filed, but these were on time.

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The HSE said: “Regular use of vibrating tools causes the painful and disabling disorder which, in this case, has left the employees with nerve damage to the hands and arms, making everyday tasks and leisure activities difficult or impossible.”

An investigation by the watchdog found that there had been insufficient supervision and monitoring by the council to ensure that operatives accurately recorded their levels of exposure to vibration.

“Furthermore, health surveillance records had not been acted upon promptly to reduce or stop exposure levels when symptoms were reported. In addition to this, risk assessments were not adequate for controlling the amount of exposure of operatives, and practices had not been implemented to prevent overexposure.”

The HSE said that had these measures been in place the total of 15 reported HAVs incidences of ill-health could have been prevented. It was also found that Lancashire had failed to send reports of the various diagnoses to HSE without delay as required under the RIDDOR regulations.

The council pleaded guilty to breaches of Section 2 (1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulation 8 of the RIDDOR Regulations 2013. It was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,366,78.

HSE inspector Jennifer French said: “HAVs can be a serious and sometimes disabling condition that is irreversible.

“All employers have a duty to provide effective measures to ensure the health of their staff are not seriously or permanently harmed by the work they are asked to do. HSE is committed to thoroughly investigating companies who do not comply with their duties and will prosecute if necessary.”

Phil Durnell, Lancashire County Council director of highways and transport, said: "The safety of our employees is of the utmost importance. We have conducted a full review of our procedures relating to the control of vibration and we have implemented new procedures and technology to safeguard employees and to reduce any exposure to the lowest practicable level."

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