Do businesses REALLY have employees’ interests at heart when it comes to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?

Over the last few months, concerned workers have been contacting Essel about Hand Arm Vibration syndrome (HAVS) after downloading informative content posted on our website.

A common thread amongst these calls was a description of symptoms consistent with the early stages of HAVS injuries from the regular use of powered tools. However, a disturbing trend emerged regarding their employer’s attitudes to their concerns, which has prompted writing this article.

Head in the sand?

When the employees’ symptoms were reported to management, it seemed that the complaints fell on deaf ears (no pun intended) and very little effort was expended in taking matters further, i.e it was a “just get on with it” reaction. In one case the operative had to overcome his employer’s reluctance to his requests for health surveillance, but then only because of his persistent complaints!

Despite the outcome of tests showing the early stages of HAVS, the process of managing the employee also appeared to be poor, therefore increasing the risks of an irreversible injury. The businesses seemed unaware (or undeterred) that they were on the wrong side of the law, risking prosecution and heavy fines. Employers are duty bound to protect employees with respect to the Control of Vibrations at Work Regulations (2005), which means a risk assessment, awareness training, control actions and health surveillance where necessary.

In another case, it was reported that a business had indeed gone to the effort of getting reliable vibration information (from a reputable tool database) but stopped at that point; the employee could not explain the reason for this abrupt halt? They failed to carry out a risk assessment and so seemingly not met their statutory obligations. Without a knowledge of the risks, an action plan for control could therefore not be established and so the business was none the wiser. Their initial efforts in gathering data was a total waste of time and money!

In a third case, an organisation was looking to carry out their own vibration measurements on their inventory of tools. When quizzed further, this employee lacked confidence in the capability of his business to carry out a competent risk assessment. In an unrelated case, measurements were undertaken using inappropriate instrumentation, where this kit was actually intended for condition monitoring and therefore measuring the wrong thing!

A false economy?

Now let’s not tar all companies with the same brush, there are many examples of businesses that Essel has worked with, who put staff health and wellbeing as one of their highest priorities. These businesses fall well within the law when it comes to regulatory compliance.

But the main impression from our recent experience is that businesses are in denial about HAVS as a health risk in their workplace. With the regulations in place for nearly 15 years, surely any reputable business or health and safety manager should not be unaware of the risks of HAVS due to regular use of powered tools?

A further impression was that cost was regarded as a primary restricting factor when it came to carrying out a competent HAV risk assessment. With fines now in six figures and rising (the latest prosecution was a record £600k), plus the risks of compensation, think ‘no win no fee’, this is a false economy. Investing in competence training or alternatively getting external help has an obvious ROI.

But above all, is it not a MORAL responsibility for businesses to look after the health and wellbeing of their staff?

A free guide to conducting a hand arm vibration (HAV) risk assessment is available for download. It explains, amongst other things, when you should carry one out, and what constitutes a competent risk assessment. Click here to receive it.