What is HAVS? Increase in Claims for Vibration White Finger
Tilly Bailey & Irvine Solicitors, who have assisted clients who have suffered from the Industrial Disease Vibration White Finger (HAVS) for the last 30 years, have seen an increased number of enquiries in relation to the condition recently.
TBI's Industrial Disease specialist Mark Ellis commented that over the last six to 12 months, he has noticed a marked increase of individuals enquiring about claims for the condition, particularly from those in the ground working industry.
The majority of new enquiries are from ground workers who have been carrying out works all over the country for utility companies, digging out and replacing pipework and cabling, or highway maintenance for local authorities.
It appears that despite the industry knowledge of the condition HAVS, many employers still do not appear to be taking heed of the risks and putting in place measures for protection of their employees.
What is HAVS or vibration white finger?
HAVS can be serious and disabling, and there is a significant risk to health whenever power tools are used for significant periods of time. The Health and Safety Executive believe that nearly two million people are at risk of developing the condition. HAVS is a preventable condition, but once damage is done it is permanent. The symptoms include an inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful blanching attacks.
There are, however, simple and cost effective ways to eliminate the risks of HAVS. Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.
Who is at Risk of developing HAVS?
A wide range of tools usage can be associated with vibration exposure. A common feature is that the tools are a source of vibration, which is what causes the damage.
The condition recently attracted some attention when British Coal was found to have been negligent and many of its mine workers developed HAVS. Whilst it may be seen as a condition affecting those working in heavy industry such as steel manufacture, engineering, ship yards, forestry, mining, quarrying, road repairs and construction, it is also a risk to other groups such as those using brush cutters and strimmers, or those working with power tools on production lines and in vehicle repair.
Tilly Bailey and Irvine has seen an increasing number of ground workers, council workers, motor mechanics and production workers who have used vibrating tools and have recovered damages for HAVS.
Employers still not Listening?
Mr Ellis notes that Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions, who are based in Sheffield but work all over the country, was recently fined £500,000 and ordered to pay £195,000 costs when the Health and Safety Executive found that workers at the company were exposed to hand vibration during 2002 – 2011, putting them at risk of developing HAVS and thus breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
A property management and development organisation was fined £600,000 and also ordered to pay costs similarly for breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act when requiring their workers to use vibrating power tools to carry out ground maintenance work at Triton, Milton Keynes, Rotherham and Hull.
Local Councils also appear to be failing in their duty. Dacorum Borough Council was find for exposing its ground workers to hand and arm vibration by excessive use of vibration power tools. It was fined £100,000 with costs of £28,000 for breaching Regulation 5 of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 by failing to ensure that its ground maintenance team, who were maintaining and repairing public spaces in Hertfordshire, received the appropriate protection from excessive vibration in the course of their employment.
In February 2017, a Housing Association, Calico Housing Ltd of Burnley, was fined £20,000 and ordered for pay costs for breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Mr Ellis notes that employers do not appear to be heeding the obvious dangers of hand and arm vibration upon their workers’ health. Recent figures from the Building Safety Group (BSG) show a 33% rise year on year in the number of reported incidents, based on over 42,000 independent site inspections between 2017 and 2018. The number of hand and arm vibration breaches had increased by one third in that year alone.