A company responsible for maintaining the grounds of a naval base in Cornwall has been fined after three workers were diagnosed with a debilitating condition that left them with permanent nerve damage.
The three men, who do not wish to be named, were employed by Babcock Flagship Ltd to maintain the extensive grounds at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint where they were exposed to high levels of hand arm vibration (HAV) caused by using tools such as hedge cutters and strimmers for long periods.
Truro Magistrates Court heard on May 6 that all three were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) by occupational health providers in January 2012.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed the company was aware each worker had vibration-related conditions or health issues that could be aggravated by vibration, having had health surveillance reports between 2009 and 2011.
The court was told, however, that Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to put control measures in place before or after the condition was identified in the workers.
HSE said the company did not properly assess the vibration risks faced by staff using hedge cutters, strimmers and other tools and failed to implement suitable controls, such as limiting their exposure to such machinery or providing alternatives. Grounds maintenance staff could regularly work eight hours a day using the same tools.
The court heard the permanent damage caused to the three men’s health had a significant impact on their ability to work and their quality of life.
Babcock Flagship Ltd, Wigmore Street, London, was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs after admitting two breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Emma O’Hara said: “Almost half of all the ill-health reports sent to HSE relate to Hand Arm Vibration and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome associated with working with vibrating tools, many from the horticulture industry.
“Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to take action – despite the warning signs raised in earlier health surveillance reports – to prevent the physical damage caused by prolonged use of such tools, causing these three workers pain and discomfort.
“Babcock Flagship Ltd should have properly assessed the level of vibration to which these workers were exposed and limited the amount of time they spent using tools such as hedge cutters and strimmers.”
Almost two million people in the UK work in conditions where they are at risk of developing vibration-related ill health such as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Information on preventing the condition is available at www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav