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September 25, 2008

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Bonus scheme promoted hazardous working

A council has scrapped a bonus scheme that encouraged employees to work with tools for long hours, thereby exposing them to excessive vibration.

It follows a case in which a Norfolk road worker was forced to retire at the age of 25 on grounds of ill health. Adrian Bideau will now receive £262,000 in damages from Norfolk County Council after he developed hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of using vibrating tools such as breaker packs, whacker plates and saws.

Samantha Vallis from Thompson Solicitors, who brought the case for Mr Bideau’s public-sector trade union Unison, said: “As a large employer, Norfolk County Council would have been aware of the risks associated with the excessive vibration, which they were exposing their employees to. They encouraged their workers to work long and excessive hours on the tools, as they operated a bonus scheme. Therefore, the more work [employees] did, the more money they earned.”

She added the council has now introduced a system whereby exposure to vibratory tools is monitored and controlled, and the bonus scheme has been stopped.

Commenting on his condition, Mr Bideau, said: “As well as HAVS, I was also diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in October 2003 and I have not been able to work since then. I have difficulty with working outside owing to my condition, which is much worse in cold weather.

“Despite having decompression surgery on both of my wrists, I have not been able to return to my former employment and I was retired on ill-health grounds in April 2005.”

In a statement to SHP, the council said that since 2003 occupational-health practices and procedures across the public sector had developed considerably – in particular, in Norfolk.

The council’s risk and insurance manager, John Baldwin, added: “At Norfolk County Council we take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously. It is highly regrettable when a member of staff suffers injury or illness while working for us and, although instances such as this are extremely rare, we continuously strive to review and improve our working practices to ensure staff are exposed to the minimal amount of occupational risk.”

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