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Council’s lack of surveillance concealed multiple HAVS cases

Thanet District Council, in Kent, England, has been fined after one of its employees developed hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Following the diagnosis, a further 15 cases of ill-health relating to vibration exposure were discovered.

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When it investigated the first incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the worker had spent up to six hours a day operating electrically powered equipment, such as mowers and hedge cutters. He was not under any health surveillance and was unaware how to report his symptoms. He was diagnosed after he visited his GP. 

Canterbury Crown Court was told that Thanet District Council started to implement appropriate health surveillance after the HSE had served it with an improvement notice. During this time, 15 more cases of HAVS were identified and reported to the executive.  

The HSE said that the council had not taken steps to eliminate or control its workers’ exposure to HAVS. It had failed to train them on the risks of vibration exposure caused by power tools, and how to control it.

Thanet District Council pleaded guilty to breaching regs 6(2) and 7(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations for failing to reduce exposure to vibration to as low a level as is reasonably practicable and for failing to place employees under suitable health surveillance, respectively. 

The council was fined £250,000 and was ordered to pay £18,325 costs. 

“[Hand-arm vibration] is entirely preventable but once the damage is done it is permanent,” commented HSE inspector Mike Walters.

 

Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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