HAVS fines: can you afford not to measure hand-arm vibration?

HAVS fines from using hand-held power tools without a HAVs risk assessmentThe use of hand-held vibrating power tools for long periods of time and/or repeated and frequent use can lead to a permanent and painful injury called Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). HAVS includes injuries to the hands affecting blood vessels, nerves and joints such as carpal tunnel syndrome and Vibration White Finger (VWF). Employers who allow this to happen in their workplaces to their workers can face large HAVS fines.

Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 employers must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposures to harmful vibration, and where required, to provide appropriate training and ongoing health surveillance. If, as an employer, you do not do that then you not only put your employees at risk of a terrible disabling injury, but you also put your business at risk through financial penalties as well as the loss of reputation.

The table below highlights recent high profile successful prosecutions of companies of all sizes in the UK totaling over £2 million worth of imposed HAVS fines since 2016. In addition, the UK Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) research indicates that it costs a company between £7000 and £36,000 to process every £1000 paid out in compensation claims – this is in addition to the actual amount paid out for the claim and any legal fees incurred. 

The extent of the HAVS problem

In a 1999 study by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) [1] 4.8 million people worldwide were estimated to be at risk of HAVS, of these around 1.7m were expected to be exposed above the Exposure Action Value (EAV) of 5 m/s2, and 1m exposed above the Exposure Limit Value (ELV) 2.5 m/s2. In the UK alone, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that there are 2 million people are at risk of vibration exposure every day.

In fact, there are 600-900 cases of HAVS reported to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). Claims for Vibration White Finger (VWF) now represent 9% of all employers’ liability cases, and there were over 400 new Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit cases in 2017 for HAVS and carpal tunnel syndrome [2]. Data for the UK in 2018 shows claims are falling which is good news: 180 new claims for HAVS and 145 claims for Carpel Tunnel Syndrome [3]. 

Some of the first incidences of HAVs in the workforce which formed the catalyst for changes to European legislation were:

  • £124K award to 7 British Coal Miners: sums ranged from £5k to £41k (1997)
  • £200k award to a tree surgeon employed by Liverpool City Council (1998)
  • £143k award to British Gas fitter: a total of £420k to 6 fitters (1998), and
  • £1.2M from North West Water to 8 former employees (2000).

Recent HAVS Fines shared in the UK media* (2016 to 2019)

Year Cost of fine Legal costs Details
2015 £50K unknown Linde Heavy Truck Division, Merthyr Tydfil (now shut down): 21 workers
2016 £250K unknown Balfour Beatty
2016 £250k £18K Thanet Council: 12 workers
2017 £400k
(reduced to £150k)
£10,900 (paid to HSE)
Wrexham County Borough Council: 12 workers
2017 £120k Unknown Newfield Fabrications: 2 workers
2017 £100K Unknown Charter Housing Association: 6 employees affected
2017 £120K Unknown Balfour Beatty
2018 £50k Unknown Design and Supply Ltd: 1 worker
2018 £30k Unknown Tai Calon Community Housing: several workers
2018 £500k Unknown Balfour Beatty
2018 £400K £39K Nordam Europe Limited
2018 £80K £25K British Airways Avionic Engineering Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations
2018 £60K £4,864
Calderys UK fined for failing to control exposure to both vibration and silica for its workers
2019 £20K £4,335 Calico Homes Limited, Burnley
2019 £90K £45K Faiveley Transport Tamworth Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act 1974.
2019 £36,667 £3,560 Celtic Rock Services pleaded guilty to breaching s 2(1) of the HSW act (3 workers affected). The firm’s director also pleaded guilty to breaching s 37 of the HSW Act (12-week custodial sentence, suspended for one year, and a 12-week curfew).
2019 £100K £28,673 Dacorum Council: seven workers in Grounds Maintenance and Street Care team
2019 £600K £13,995 Places for People Homes has been fined after five employees developed HAVS from using vibrating power tools to carry out grounds maintenance tasks.
Total fines to date £3.007 Million

    *published by various UK media outlets (print and online) as a matter of public record following UK court hearings.

How can Pulsar Instruments help?

Companies need to carry out a risk assessment in their workplace for the high vibration tools their staff operate to determine whether their staff are at risk of HAVS and if so what actions they can take to reduce this risk. Furthermore, such a risk assessment should also identify whether employers need to provide health surveillance for any affected staff as well as training and information.

Supply of Hand-Arm Vibration Meters

HAVS fines can be prevented by performing Hand-Arm Vibration risk assessment with a HAV meterPulsar Instruments provides a simple to use Hand-Arm vibration meter, the Pulsar vB, which is perfect for this task. Simply attach it to your tools as close to the location of the users’ hands as possible, switch on a measure. In a few seconds, you will have data about the tools vibration magnitude and know how long a worker can use the tool for before they are at risk of harm.

If you’d rather not buy a Hand-Arm Vibration Meter, then why not ask us about hiring one for a week at a time.

Consultancy

If you don’t feel confident or competent enough to carry out the risk assessment yourself then Pulsar Instruments can help. We charge a fixed fee for testing up to 15 power tools at a time and provide you with your risk assessment, identify any problem areas (including advising if health surveillance requirements and staff training is required) and providing a register of the vibration magnitude of your tools for you to keep up to date. Contact us for further information on our hand-arm vibration consultancy services. 

References

[1] Hand-transmitted vibration: Occupational exposure and their health effects in Great Britain. CRR232/1999. HSE Books ISBN 0 7176 2475 5.

[2] HSE Research and Consultancy Bulletin 25 July 2019. HSE.gov.uk

[3] HSE 2018 Statistics for industrial illness. http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/vibration/index.htm


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