A Gwent manufacturing company, Nordam Europe, which makes and repairs aircraft components, has just been fined £400,000 for Health and Safety breaches which led to around 100 employees developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) over a period of 22 years.

Employees used a range of hand-held vibrating tools including orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders and drills. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company should have carried out a suitable assessment of work activities which exposed employees to vibration and should have implemented additional controls to reduce exposure where reasonably practicable.

Also, employees should have undergone suitable health surveillance to identify symptoms at an early stage of the disease, which would have prevented it from becoming a disabling condition for so many employees and ex-employees.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Janet Hensey said: “This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance.”

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) manifests as a range of symptoms in the fingers, hands and arms which can all be either challenging in the workplace (for example, an inability to do fine work) or debilitating (for example, extreme pain in the fingers and/or loss of strength in the hands which can cause absence or long term disability). But HAVS isn’t new – in fact, the HSE has clear guidelines for the length of time employees should be allowed to use vibrating machinery in any one day. Their advice is clear too: “Control measures to reduce vibration [must be] properly applied”; and workplaces must provide information, appropriate Health & Safety training and health surveillance.

And whilst this is a particularly galling case with multiple employees affected, the HSE’s response is careful to highlight that, even though the company has clearly failed in its duty of care to employees for an exceptionally long time, the priority in this story for other manufacturing businesses is the legal requirement for health surveillance where employees are exposed to risks which may take time to become apparent.

As well as vibration, radiation, solvents and fumes also fit into this category – because all can be practically harmless in occasional or one-off exposures, yet can be deadly in repeated or constant contexts.

Appropriate health surveillance is – not surprisingly – industry specific, and you can find further information on the HSE Website .

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