A Lancashire limousine and hearse manufacturer has been ordered to pay more than £23,000 in fines and costs after seven employees developed a debilitating nerve condition.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Bolton-firm Woodall Nicholson after the workers were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration syndrome as a result of almost daily use of hand-held equipment.
This included vibrating grinders, saws and pneumatic tools, used over the course of a six and a half year period.
Trafford Magistrates Court heard that the men, aged between 25 and 62, developed the condition while working at the plant on Wigan Road in Westhoughton between July 2005 and December 2011.
Symptoms include tingling and numbness in their fingers which can cause sleep disturbance, not being able to feel things with their fingers, loss of strength in their hands, and suffering pain in their fingertips during cold weather known as Vibration White Finger.
HSE’s investigation found that Woodall Nicholson failed to ensure that risk from exposure to vibration from the tools was reduced as low as reasonably practicable and over a protracted period of time.
The court was told that the HSE issued an Improvement Notice requiring changes to working practices after being made aware of the workers’ condition.
The firm has since introduced measures to reduce the level of vibration by buying new lower-level vibrating tools and reducing the amount of time workers spend using them.
Woodall Nicholson was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £13,485 in prosecution costs.
Speaking after the hearing, Mike Lisle, HSE inspector, said the condition is incurable and will affect the workers for the rest of their lives.
“Some of the workers now have difficulty picking up small objects, such as screws and nails, which is essential for the job they do. They will also suffer some level of pain in their hands for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“The risks of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome are well known in the manufacturing industry and employers have a legal duty to make sure the exposure of workers to vibrating equipment is kept as low as possible.
“Sadly employees at Woodall Nicholson regularly used high-level vibrating equipment over several years that was badly maintained, with few controls in place over its use. This made it almost inevitable that they would develop the condition.”