Company fined for failing to protect workers

18th July 2023

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A manufacturing company has been fined after failing to protect two of its workers from exposure to vibration.

The two staff members at Ross & Catherall Limited – a company that manufactures and supplies metal bars for the aerospace and automotive industries – worked at the firm’s Forge Lane site in Killamarsh, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, in 2019.

The two employees carried out a variety of tasks, which included the use of vibrating tools, throughout the company’s manufacturing process.

Both operators used these tools for extended periods of time, over a number of years, without adequate systems in place to control their exposure to vibration.

Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and can lead to hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). HAVS can lead to the loss of strength in the hands as well as tingling and numbness in the fingers – both of which can affect the ability to do work safely.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no hand-arm vibration risk assessment in place to identify what level of vibration the operators were exposed to. There were also no control measures in place to reduce exposure levels, with reasonably practicable measures only being implemented following HSE’s intervention. Health surveillance was also inadequate. This was not carried out annually and there was no initial health surveillance assessment for new operators.

HSE guidance can be found at:Hand arm vibration at work (


In May 2022, Westbridge Furniture Designs Limited were prosecuted by Her Majesty’s Health and Safety Executive for failure to undertake sufficient risk assessments in relation to their use of vibrating tools and failure to maintain adequate controls in the management of their vibration risk. The prosecution arose from a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome in two of the company’s employees. A link to the Health and Safety Executive’s Press Release on the case can be foundhere.

There was a history to the prosecution. In 2016, following a Health and Safety Executive inspection, the company was deemed to have failed to properly assess levels of vibration exposure to its employees and warned it needed to take steps. On further investigation by the Health and Safety Executive in January 2020, the company remained in breach and did not have in place a proper system of assessment of levels of exposure, nor appropriate controls. Two employees, who had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, had been expected to continue their normal work, the company failing to take into account the diagnosis and any particular vulnerability on the part of its employees. One employee suffered permanent nerve damage as a result, causing him to cease employment.

The company pleaded guilty before the Mold Magistrates of a breach of section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The Magistrates imposed a fine of £150,000 and ordered the company to pay costs of £14,033.50. The Health & Safety Inspector in charge of the case commented afterwards:

“This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of managing their employees’ exposure to vibration, whilst using hand-held 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 them complete this process. Had this company followed the free guidance, they would not have exposed many employees to risk and possibly have prevented the ill health that has been suffered.”

The link between carpal tunnel syndrome and vibration is controversial, although it remains a prescribed disease (A12) for the purposes of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. Whilst causation may be an issue in relation to civil claims, it did not matter for the purposes of the prosecution, where the company pleaded guilty and there seems to have been a proven deterioration in the condition which was linked to the work being performed. What mattered was the company’s failure to consider, assess or manage the clear risk which arose from the use of hand-held vibrating tools in the course of their operations.

Employers should note, firstly, the serious view taken by the Health and Safety Executive of the breach, secondly, the high level of fine, which would be met by the company, not being an insurable risk, and the fact that the risk arising from the use of hand-held vibratory tools arose in the woodworking industry, rather than the heavier sections of the construction industry. The duty to guard against injury caused by vibration exposure is not confined to any particular industry, but arises wherever employees use hand-held vibratory tools on either a regular or prolonged basis in the course of their employment. Use of such tools needs to be carefully monitored and, if exposure extends above the prescribed limits specified within the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, appropriatelycontrolled.

The level of fine here was almost certainly influenced by the fact that the company had failed to act following the HSE’s intervention in 2016. Nonetheless, the sizeable sum which the company was ordered to pay is a warning to all companies whose employees use hand-held vibratory tools. If you fail to address the risk which arises from such work, you put yourself in danger of prosecution. Such prosecutions are difficult to defend and may lead to sizeable financial penalties.

Members of Ropewalk Chambers have extensive experience in handling and defending cases of vibration-induced injury on the part of employers, having acted in many of the leading cases in the area, and also represent companies faced with prosecutions similar to that suffered by Westbridge Furniture Designs Ltd.


Plymouth City Council has been fined £200,000 after its failures led to employees developing hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

During 2017 – 2019, two council employees developed HAVS and a further four were diagnosed with CTS as a result of prolonged and uncontrolled exposure to hand arm vibration while working in the grass cutting team or when carrying out arboriculture activities.

HAVS can affect the nerves causing pins and needles and numbness and can result in reduced strength in the hands. It can also vascular components in the hands causing asymmetrical blanching of the fingers and numbness which occur when exposed to cold and wet.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that between 2005 – 2019, Plymouth City Council failed in its legal duty to comply with legislation even thoughguidance has been available for employers since 2005.

Plymouth City Council pleaded guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The local authority was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £25,877 in costs at Plymouth Magistrates Court on 29 June 2023.

HSE inspector Janet Hensey said: “The fine imposed on Plymouth City Council should underline to everyone carrying out similar activities that the courts, and HSE, take a failure to follow legislation seriously.

“We will not hesitate to take action against companies which do not do all that they can to keep people safe. Exposure to vibration is a recognised health risk with potentially disabling consequences.

“There has been relevant legislation regarding assessing and controllingexposure to vibration since 2005, this was a case of the organisation completely failing to identify the risk to employees when carrying out grass cutting and arboriculture activities.”

Blake Morgan Solicitor Agent supported HSE with this prosecution.

Source: H.S.E.

More to benefit from vibration payouts

More people harmed by vibration exposure at work will be eligible for government compensation payouts under new rules. Minister for work Jane Kennedy this week announced planned changes to the prescription of 'Prescribed Disease A11 (PD A11),' commonly known as vibration white finger (VWF). The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), the body that advises the government on compensation issues, conducted a review and recommended widening the terms of prescription of the disease to include severe sensorineural symptoms - altered sensations in the fingers such as tingling or numbness. Previously, only those with vascular symptoms - which caused a blanching of the fingers - were able to claim Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit. Accepting IIAC’s recommendations, Jane Kennedy said: 'The recommendations bring Prescribed Disease A11 up to date with the medical science on this condition, and we will look to implement these changes in the most cost effective manner.'

  • DWP news release. Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome. Report by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in accordance with Section 171 of the Social: Security Administration Act 1992 reviewing the prescription of the vascular and sensorineural components of Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome, DWP, July 2004 [pdf)
  • Source: TUC

A door manufacturing company from south Wales has been fined £50,00 after a worker was exposed to hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

Merthyr Tydfil Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of Design and Supply, based in Merthyr Tydfil, was exposed to vibration from the use of handheld pneumatic buffing and sanding tools over a period of 15 years. He then developed HAVS.

An investigation by the HSE found the company failed to implement a safe system of work in order to control the risk of exposure to vibration.  

It had not carried out a suitable risk assessment of working with power tools, resulting in poor control measures. 

The company had not provided adequate information, instruction and training for employees or supervisors, resulting in inadequate control measures and a lack of adequate supervision.

Design and Supply of Pant Industrial Estate, Merthyr Tydfil, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1881.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Lee Jones said, “This was a case of the company completely failing to understand the importance of assessing the risk to their employees from exposure to vibration and therefore putting in place the correct control measures.

“If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor worker’s health and the employee’s condition would have not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life altering stage.”


Nordam Europe, a company that services and repairs aircraft components, has been fined £400,000 after 100 employees developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) over a period of 22 years. Of these, at least 30 staff were exposed to risk of “significant” harm.

The HSE investigation into its facility at Blackwood, Gwent, south Wales, found that employees used a range of hand-held vibrating tools including orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders and drills. 

However, Nordam Europe failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment of work activities that resulted in vibration exposure, or to implement controls that would have reduced exposure.

Nordam Europe had also failed in its duty to implement a safe system of work in order to control exposure to vibration.

Employees should have undergone health screening to identify symptoms of HAVS at an early stage, which would have prevented the disease from progressing to a disabling condition, according to the HSE.

The HSE’s enforcement database says that an improvement notice for the control of HAVS was served against Nordam Europe on 7 April 2014, setting a compliance date of 10 November 2014.

Nordam Europe, of Hawtin Park, Blackwood, Gwent, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Cardiff Crown Court. It was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £39,620.92.

HSE inspector Janet Hensey said: “This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance.

“If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers’ health and the employees’ condition would not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life-altering stage.”

Vibration levels had not been reduced to as low as was reasonably practicable, thereby increasing their risk of developing HAVS, and the investigation also found the company had did not have a suitable health surveillance system in place. This is considered vital to identify HAVS symptoms at an early stage.


A division of Balfour Beatty, the UK’s largest construction contractor, has been fined £500,000 following an HSE investigation that revealed “persistent poor compliance” by failing to control exposure to hand arm vibration.

Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions was fined at Sheffield Crown Court on 18 June, after the court heard that workers were left at risk of developing hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) from 2002 to 2011.

The court heard that workers at Balfour Beatty sites were regularly exposed to hand arm vibration while operating hand-held power tools such as hydraulic breakers and floor saws.

The HSE found that the company failed in its legal duty to ensure that the risk to workers using these tools was kept at as low a level as reasonably practicable.

The company also failed to report to “a significant number” of employees diagnosed with HAVS to the HSE, as legally required.

Employers have a duty to report confirmed cases under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) when they receive a formal written diagnosis from a doctor confirming that the employee has either HAVS or carpal tunnel syndrome that is likely to be occupational in origin.

According to the HSE, the company also failed to assess the risk to workers’ health, failed to put in place and monitor suitable risk control measures and failed to put in place a suitable system of health surveillance.

Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions, of Thorncliffe Park, Chapeltown, Sheffield, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and Regulation 5 (1) of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).

It was also ordered to pay costs of £195,000.

A Company responsible for maintaining the grounds of a Cornish naval base has been fined after three workers were diagnosed with a debilitating condition.

The workers, who do not wish to be named, were employed by Babcock Flagship Ltd working on the grounds of the HMS Raleigh in Torpoint where they were exposed to high levels of hand arm vibration (HAV) caused by using tools such as hedge cutters and strimmers for long periods of time.

Truro Magistrates Court heard last month that all three were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by occupational health providers back in January 2012.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who investigated the case revealed the company was aware each worker had been diagnosed with vibration-related conditions  and that this could be aggravated by vibration.

Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to put control measures in place before or after the condition was identified in the workers, the court was told.

HSE said the Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to assess the risks faced by staff using hedge cutters and strimmers and failed to implement adequate guidelines.

All three of the workers have suffered permanent damage and this has had a significant impact on their quality of life and ability to work.

Babcock Flagship Ltd, Wigmore Street, London, 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.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Emma O’Hara said: “Almost half of all the ill-health reports sent to HSE relate to Hand Arm Vibration and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome associated with working with vibrating tools, many from the horticulture industry.

“Babcock Flagship Ltd failed to take action – despite the warning signs raised in earlier health surveillance reports – to prevent the physical damage caused by prolonged use of such tools, causing these three workers pain and discomfort.

“Babcock Flagship Ltd should have properly assessed the level of vibration to which these workers were exposed and limited the amount of time they spent using tools such as hedge cutters and strimmer's.”

Expert comment

Mark Lennon

Position: Solicitor

This case, as well as the recent HSE prosecution, have highlighted that vibration exposure remains a major concern in workplaces that needs to be tackled. 
“There has been a misconception that HAVS/VWF injuries are a thing of the past but this recent HSE prosecution is one of several recently and serves as a timely reminder that vibration exposure in the workplace remains a significant Health & Safety concern for many employees. 
“Through our work we have seen numerous cases over the years when people have gone on to suffer this condition as a result of employers simply failing to implement basic safeguards which could have made a huge difference to the welfare of staff. 
“We hope that cases like this are a wake-up call to companies involved in industrial work to recognize the dangers of vibration exposure. The Health & Safety of staff members must always come first. 
“Irwin Mitchell have extensive experience in bringing cases on behalf of workers who have sustained injuries as a result of using hand held vibrating tools, most notably by recently Securing over £118,000 in compensation for a former demolition worker, one of the largest settlements for this condition in the UK.” 

Source: Irwin Mitchel Solicitors