By Nick Jervis
A former motor worker for Fords Motor Company Ltd has received 8,500 in compensation after his hands were left permanently damaged from using vibrating tools at work. The man worked as a toolmaker for over 30 years for the company and as a result of continued use of power tools developed the condition known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). This condition, also known as Vibration White Finger, is classed as an industrial injury that affects people operating hand-held vibrating power tools over a prolonged period such as power drills, chainsaws and pneumatic drills. The injury leads to nerve damage, resulting in poor circulation that compounds the damage to small nerves and blood vessels in the extremities and can eventually lead to loss of function.
Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, employers are required to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk to health and safety to their employees arising from the prolonged use of power tools. One in ten people who regularly use power tools are at risk of developing the condition. The man, who retired nine years ago from the company, said that he had never been told of the potential dangers by his employers. However, up until the introduction of the Regulations in 2005, employers took a rather lax attitude to the condition, seeing it as just one of those hazards that all workers could be vulnerable to. The implementation of the Regulations brought much-needed attention to the condition, which can have a lifelong effect on those suffering from HAVS.
Since the Regulations were brought into effect, far more research has been carried out into the effects of Vibration White Finger and HAVS and it has been recognised as a serious and debilitating condition. Again, the effects have always been known, but it took legislation for employers to take their responsibilities towards their workforce more seriously rather than just treating VWF as an occupational hazard. The victim in this claim was still working in an environment where the condition was perhaps known about, but not officially recognised as a work-place injury. Today, things are very different and repeated campaigns by the Health and Safety Executive highlighting the effects of VWF have made employers far more aware of their responsibilities to both inform and protect their workforce against the effects of the condition. An increase in the number of Vibration White Finger Claims has also seen an increase in safety.
Although not a life-threatening condition, HAVS is now classed as an industrial injury and those suffering from its effects do have the right to claim compensation if they feel that they have been unnecessarily exposed to the dangers of prolonged use of tools that can cause the condition. It is a preventable condition, although in an engineering or heavy industry environment, there will always be risks. It is up to the employers to take their duty of care towards their employees seriously and to do everything that they can to reduce the risks involved, particularly when using heavy machinery. The classification of VWF and HAVS as an industrial injury is an important step in enforcing that duty of care responsibility in any environment and highlighting the situation through compensation claims not only ensures that those who have been effected receive the compensation they deserve, but will also prevent others from suffering the same fate in future.
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