Plymouth Magistrates’ Court heard how three employees of Celtic Rock Services had developed and reported symptoms of HAVS but no action was taken. The employees used rock drills and jack hammers for cliff stabilisation work, often while dangling from abseil ropes and using the tools horizontally. The trio began to experience symptoms such as pins and needles and aching hands, in one case since 2000. An occupational nurse was employed in 2016 and the HAVS problem was identified.
An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that the risk assessment did not identify the actual exposure to vibration and had used out-of-date vibration data. The investigation also found there was no health surveillance in place until 2016 and employees were not made aware of HAVS and its symptoms. When symptoms were reported, the company failed to take action.
Celtic Rock Services Limited of Bossell Road, Buckfastleigh, Devon pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £36,667 and ordered to pay costs of £3,560.
Alwyn Thomas, director of the company, of the same address, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was given a 12 week custodial sentence, suspended for one year, a 12 week curfew and ordered to pay costs of £3,560.
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) comes from the excessive use of hand-held power tools causing painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints. Hundreds of construction workers are affected every year. Between 2008 and 2017 there were more than 7,000 new industrial injuries disablement benefit claimants for HAVS.
HSE inspector Caroline Penwill said after the hearing: “This was a case of the company and its director completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS risk assessment and health surveillance. If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers health and the employees’ conditions would not have been allowed to develop, one of which was to a severe, life altering stage.”