Vibration-risk oversight discovered after RIDDOR follow-up
In what is believed to be only the third prosecution related to the management of vibration risks, Land Rover has been ordered to pay an £80,000 penalty after an HSE investigation uncovered “systematic” failings at the company’s Solihull plant.
In December 2006, the HSE received two RIDDOR reports of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). The two employees concerned worked in a weld-destruct section of the plant, where air chisels were used to undo welds on cars as part of strength-testing quality control.
The HSE launched an investigation in 2007 and found that the workers, as well as others employed in the department, were using the tools for three hours a day when the recommended trigger time is one hour each day for each person.
On further inquiry, the HSE found that other workers in the stamping department and paint shop were also using tools without the company having in place a system to assess, measure and manage the vibration risks associated with their deployment.
HSE inspector Gareth Langston said: “The company hadn’t worked out the vibration levels, or the trigger times, and it didn’t have a maintenance programme to keep vibration levels in check.”
It also emerged that many workers were being overlooked by an ineffective health-surveillance system, and many of the records of those who had been diagnosed with symptoms had simply been filed away and not followed up.
In all, once the health-surveillance system was made effective, ten employees were thought to be affected by ill health attributable to the use of vibrating hand tools.
Appearing before Solihull magistrates on 26 April, Land Rover pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, and was fined £20,000 with £60,606 in costs.
Inspector Langston said Land Rover and sister firm, Jaguar, had effectively become a joint company in 2002, with joint health and safety management. He told SHP that Jaguar had been complying effectively with vibration-related issues and acknowledged, therefore, that Land Rover’s failures amounted to an oversight rather than a deliberate attempt to circumvent its duties.
Nevertheless, he commented: “Land Rover had systematically failed to assess and manage the risk arising from using these tools. Some employees were found to be using vibrating hand tools for periods of time far in excess of the recommended limits.
“The fact that sister plant Jaguar had addressed the issues does suggest that this particular instance was an oversight on the part of the company. However, lessons need to be learned by employers to ensure that working practices are suitably assessed for any risk.
“Employers must ensure that the use of vibrating hand tools is properly managed, and it is unacceptable that Land Rover did not do this – as this is a disabling condition, involving pain and significant loss of hand function, and is usually irreversible in later stages.”
In mitigation, Land Rover said it had an exemplary health and safety record, fully cooperated with the investigation, and issued an early guilty plea. It also modified its procedures to undo welds on vehicles by installing a hydraulic-jaw device.
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