A Bolton limousine and hearse manufacturer has been fined after seven employees developed a debilitating nerve condition over a six and a half year period.
Woodall Nicholson Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the workers were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration syndrome as a result of almost daily use of hand-held equipment, such as grinders, saws and pneumatic tools, all of which constantly vibrate.
Trafford Magistrates’ Court in Sale heard that the men, aged between 25 and 62, developed the condition while working at the plant on Wigan Road in Westhoughton between July 2005 and December 2011.
Symptoms include tingling and numbness in their fingers which can cause sleep disturbance, not being able to feel things with their fingers, loss of strength in their hands, and suffering pain in their fingertips during cold weather known as Vibration White Finger. The condition is incurable and will affect the workers for the rest of their lives.
HSE’s investigation found that Woodall Nicholson Ltd failed to ensure that risk from exposure to vibration from the tools was reduced as low as reasonably practicable and over a protracted period of time.
The court was told HSE issued an Improvement Notice requiring changes to working practices after being made aware of the workers’ condition. The company has since introduced measures to reduce the level of vibration by buying new lower-level vibrating tools and reducing the amount of time workers spend using them.
Woodall Nicholson Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £13,485 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Mike Lisle said:
“Some of the workers now have difficulty picking up small objects, such as screws and nails, which is essential for the job they do. They will also suffer some level of pain in their hands for the rest of their lives.
“The risks of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome are well known in the manufacturing industry and employers have a legal duty to make sure the exposure of workers to vibrating equipment is kept as low as possible.
“Sadly employees at Woodall Nicholson regularly used high-level vibrating equipment over several years that was badly maintained, with few controls in place over its use. This made it almost inevitable that they would develop the condition.”
Almost two million people in the UK work in conditions where they are at risk of developing Hand Arm Vibration syndrome. Information on preventing the condition is available at www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav.