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Cornish Naval Base Employees Suffer Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

Babcock Flagship Ltd, the company with the maintenance contract for a Cornish naval base, has been ordered by Truro magistrates Court to pay £20,000 after 3 employers were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by occupational health providers last year.

The three men were employed to maintain the extensive grounds at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint where they used tools such as hedge cutters and strimmers for up to eight hours a day.  

After the prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Babcock Flagship Ltd was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs after admitting two breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

The HSE has reported that almost half of all the ill-health reports sent to them relate to hand arm vibration and carpal tunnel syndrome associated with working with vibrating tools, many from the horticulture industry. In this particular case, the company failed to take action to prevent the injuries caused by prolonged use of such tools despite the warning signs raised in earlier health surveillance reports they had available between 2009 – 2011.

The Court was told that Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to put control measures in place before or after the condition was identified in the workers. The HSE said the company did not properly assess the vibration risks faced by staff using hedge cutters, strimmers and other tools, and failed to implement suitable controls, such as limiting their exposure to such machinery or providing alternatives. The Court heard that grounds maintenance staff could regularly work eight hours a day using the same tools.

It is estimated that almost two million people in the UK work in conditions where they are at risk of developing vibration-related ill health such as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HVAS) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Once the condition has developed, there is little than can be done medically to treat it.  

A claim against employers is possible but be aware that employers can only be held responsible for injuries cause by vibration from 1 January 1976. This is the "date of knowledge", established by the high number of cases among miners during the 1970s.

For more information about Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HVAS) and how to claim compensation see our HAVS factsheet.

Tracey Graham is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

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