Council charged after parks workers suffer hand injuries

Wirral Council has been sentenced after 29 employees were diagnosed with a debilitating condition that has left them with ongoing problems with their hands.

The Health & Safety Executive prosecuted Wirral Council after workers in the parks and leisure department were affected by hand arm vibration syndrome.

One of the workers, Nick Bower, began noticing problems with his hands after several years working as head green keeper at Hoylake Golf Course, where he regularly worked with strimmers and mowers.

Bower was diagnosed with the syndrome in 2009, and suffers dexterity problems and intense pain in his hands during cold weather.

Bower has since changed jobs and is now undertaking other duties for the authority that do not involve working with vibrating machinery. He is on permanent medication to help with blood flow to his hands and nerve damage.

Wirral Magistrates' Court heard this week that Bower was one of 29 employees at the council to have developed the condition between July 2005 and December 2009.

Hand Arm Vibration syndrome results in poor grip, numbness, tingling and acute sensitivity to cold resulting in pain. Once the condition has developed, reducing or eliminating exposure to vibrating tools will prevent it from getting worse, but the damage is largely irreversible.

The council workers' duties included grass, hedge and tree cutting, primarily using vibrating equipment. A HSE investigation showed the council did not properly assess the risks they faced of using such equipment or implement suitable control measures, such as limiting exposure to the tools or providing alternatives.

Wirral Council was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £9,417 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

Speaking after the hearing, Bower said: "Before I was diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome, I would often use vibrating machinery for long periods of time in the course of my job. When I began noticing symptoms and went to the doctor, he immediately asked what I did for a living and made the connection.

"I still have problems with loss of feeling and find it difficult to do everyday tasks such as fastening buttons. An attack can be triggered by everyday events such as a change of temperature or even taking food out of the freezer.

"Although I no longer work with vibrating tools, I will have the condition for life – the nerve and blood vessel damage is irreversible."

Christina Goddard, the investigating inspector for HSE, added: "Wirral Council failed to take action to prevent damage caused by vibrating tools, with the result that 29 workers now suffer from a debilitating condition.

"The council should have limited the amount of time workers spent using vibrating equipment or provided alternative tools. If appropriate action had been taken then the workers' condition could have been prevented."

Chris McCarthy, interim director of technical services at Wirral Council, said: "As an organisation, we are committed to ensuring the safety of our workforce. Lessons have been learned and communicated to further raise awareness of the risks associated with exposure to vibration in the workplace.

"It is with regret that, within part of our operation, vibration exposure was not managed appropriately in the past.

"We have fully co-operated with this HSE investigation to ensure a swift and appropriate resolution to this case and would like to thank all of our staff for their open and willing assistance during the investigation."

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