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Risk assessment

Vibration risks not properly assessed or managed

Workers at a train refurbishment company were put at risk of developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) from using vibrating tools. What should their employer have done to minimise the risks?

Employees of Faiveley Transport Tamworth Ltd (FTT Ltd) used a number of vibrating tools in their work, including grinders, sanders and air-fed cutting equipment.

In 2015, an employee alerted the company to his HAVS symptoms, which had arisen as a result of his use of the air-fed cutting tool to remove rubber seals from train doors. Despite being made aware of this, the company did not take action to manage the risks of its employees being exposed to vibration. Another employee later reported using grinders for up to eight hours per day, which led to pain in his hands.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that FTT Ltd had failed to consider the risks to its employees and agency workers of exposure to vibration over a period of ten years. There was little or no oversight by management to control exposure to vibrating equipment and there was an absence of a safe system of work including control, monitoring and maintenance measures.

The company failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of its workers’ exposure to vibration, it provided no instruction or training on tool use and did not have the necessary health surveillance in place. As well as putting the workforce as a whole at risk, the lack of health monitoring meant that it failed to identify one of its employees as being particularly susceptible to the ill effects of working with vibrating tools because he had primary Raynaud’s phenomenon (a condition that blocks bloodflow to the fingers and toes).

FTT Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to safeguard its employees from the risks of exposure to harmful vibration at work under s.2 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £45,000.

The use of vibrating tools at this workplace was described by the HSE as “uncontrolled and unrestrained”. The risk of developing HAVS from working with vibrating tools is well known. The employer should have conducted appropriate risk assessments, implemented control measures and monitored its workers’ health. Its failures put workers at risk of permanent and debilitating ill health.

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