Court orders council to pay £35,000 after 29 parks staff suffer hand-arm vibration syndrome

Wirral Council has been prosecuted after 29 parks and leisure department staff were diagnosed with debilitating and ongoing problems with their hands.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took the metropolitan borough council to court after the employees suffered hand-arm vibration syndrome. One of the workers, Nick Bower, noticed problems after several years as a head green keeper at Hoylake Golf Course, where he often used strimmers and mowers.

"The 47-year-old was diagnosed with the syndrome in 2009, and suffers dexterity problems and intense pain in his hands during cold weather," said the HSE. "He is on permanent medication to help with blood flow to his hands and nerve damage."

Wirral Magistrates' Court heard on 15 January that Bower was one of 29 employees at the council that developed the condition between 2005 and 2009. The condition leads to poor grip, numbness, tingling and acute sensitivity to cold.

Once the condition has developed, reducing or eliminating exposure to vibrating tools will prevent it from getting worse, but the damage is largely irreversible, said the HSE.

Duties included grass, hedge and tree cutting, mostly with vibrating equipment. An HSE probe showed the council did not properly assess the risks staff faced using such kit or implement suitable control measures, such as limiting use of tools or providing alternatives.

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £9,417 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

Mr Bower said after the hearing: "Before I was diagnosed I would often use vibrating machinery for long periods. When I began noticing symptoms and went to the doctor, he immediately asked what I did and made the connection.

"I still have problems with loss of feeling and find it difficult to do everyday tasks such as fastening buttons. An attack can be triggered by everyday events such as a change of temperature or even taking food out of the freezer.

"Although I no longer work with vibrating tools, I will have the condition for life - the nerve and blood vessel damage is irreversible."

HSE investigating inspector Christina Goddard said:  "Wirral Council failed to take action to prevent damage caused by vibrating tools, with the result that 29 workers now suffer from a debilitating condition.

"The council should have limited the amount of time workers spent using vibrating equipment or provided alternative tools. If appropriate action had been taken then the workers' condition could have been prevented."

Wirral’s interim director of technical services Chris McCarthy said: "As an organisation, we are committed to ensuring the safety of our workforce. Lessons have been learned and communicated to further raise awareness of the risks associated with exposure to vibration in the workplace.

"It is with regret that, within part of our operation, vibration exposure was not managed appropriately in the past.

"We have fully co-operated with this HSE investigation to ensure a swift and appropriate resolution to this case and would like to thank all of our staff for their open and willing assistance during the investigation."

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


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