A Welsh health board has been fined after it ignored pleas from its occupational health department to risk-assess employees for hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), leaving three workers injured.
Powys Teaching Health Board required its employees routinely to operate handheld power tools, such as lawn mowers, strimmers and hedge cutters, without carrying out an assessment of the risks from exposure to vibration.
There was no monitoring or any estimate of exposure to vibration, even though the employees, particularly during the summer months, operated handheld power tools for several hours a day.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the health board had failed properly to assess the levels of exposure to its employees and that information, instruction and training given to staff was limited.
It also found the health board had ignored requests from its own occupational health department to conduct a risk assessment.
The lack of monitoring, assessment, training and health surveillance allowed employees to operate handheld power tools for a significant period, in some cases several decades, without having the necessary measures in place to reduce the risk, HSE said.
This led to three employees being diagnosed with HAVS.
Hand-arm vibration syndrome
HSE took the board to court in November, where Powys Teaching Health Board pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
It was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,599 at the hearing at Wrexham Magistrates’ Court.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Joe Boast said: “This was a case of the health board completely failing to grasp the importance of managing its staff’s exposure to vibration while using handheld power tools.
“Employers should conduct a full assessment of the vibration magnitude and exposure duration, before reviewing whether employees are at risk. There is a simple online calculator to help employers complete this process.
“If the health board had followed the free guidance, they would not have exposed employees to risk and possibly have prevented the ill health that has been suffered,” Boast added.