A Bolton limousine and hearse manufacturer was recently fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £13,485 in prosecution costs following a breach of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, as a result of their failure to ensure that risk from exposure to vibrations was as low as reasonably practicable. Similarly, Rolls Royce were fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £18,186 in prosecution costs after being found guilty of a breach of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, and in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Rolls Royce failed to assess the vibration risks faced by their workers operating machinery. In addition, Rolls Royce failed respond to signs of damage, following the reporting of ill health. In both cases, employees of the companies had developed hand arm vibrating syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome.

These recent HSE prosecutions have raised awareness of the risks of developing hand arm vibrating syndrome, or carpal tunnel syndrome, to workers operating vibrating industrial tools for prolonged periods of time. In addition, the prosecutions re-emphasise the overriding duties of an employer to ensure the health and safety of his or her employees.

Hand arm vibration syndrome, also known as HAVS, is a condition which occurs in workers hands, arms and wrists following prolonged use of hand held vibrating power tools. HAVS affects muscles, joints, blood vessels and nerves and can cause pain, reduced ability to do fine work and reduced grip strength. Nearly two million people are at risk of developing HAVS. However, workers at high risk of developing HAVS include those who are involved in building and maintenance, construction, estate management, forestry, foundries, engineering, manufacturing concrete products and mines and quarries. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder which has similar symptoms and is also linked to vibration exposure. The conditions are permanent once developed, but avoidable if employers comply with the relevant legislation:

Under s. 5(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, “an employer who carries out work which is liable to expose any of his employees to risk from vibration shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health and safety of those employees and the risk assessment shall identify the measures that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations”.

Under s. 6(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, “The employer shall ensure that risk from the exposure of his employees to vibration is either eliminated at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable”.

Therefore, to protect themselves from prosecution and protect their employee’s health, it is essential that employers assess the vibration risk in their work place. Employers must quantify the vibration exposure their employees currently face and take steps to reduce vibration exposure and ensure that vibration exposure does not exceed the legal limits. In addition, employers must provide information and training to employees who are at risk and where there is a particular risk, an employee should be placed under health surveillance. 

Employees are encouraged to be proactive in the avoidance of this condition through the use anti-vibration dampers, vibration isolating handles and gloves when operating machinery. In addition, it is advised that employees ensure that the machinery is well maintained, avoid gripping too tightly to the machinery and use the correct tool for the job.