04 March, 2022
A metals fabrication company has been sentenced for health breaches after several workers were diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The company was visited by the Health & Safety Executive in March 2018 following a concern received from an employee. During that visit it was found that there were multiple health and safety breaches, resulting in the company being issued with Improvement Notices.
The HSE's investigation found that there were systemic failings to recognise the risk of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or to take appropriate action to control exposure. Of particular concern were accounts from employees of pain and tingling in their fingers, hands and arms and that there were no limits on their use of vibrating tools such as angle grinders.
MTL Advanced Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company has been fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £14,061 in costs.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Laura Hunter said: "Work activities involving vibrating tools should be properly assessed so that appropriate controls can be implemented to avoid exposing employees to harm.
"Employees suffering from HAVS can experience difficulty in carrying out tasks in the workplace involving fine or manipulative work and are less able to work in cold conditions. Sadly, these effects can be permanent and life changing."
In this case the interpretation of the sentencing guidelines was key to achieving a positive outcome for the client, who rightly accepted their guilt at a very early stage. The key issue in the case was whether the courts assessment of the harm category as required by the sentencing guidelines was the likelihood of any harm occurring or specifically the likelihood of level B harm arising.
Forbes were able to obtain comprehensive expert evidence which greatly assisted in negotiations with the HSE and enable the court to conclude that the level of harm was at a lower level than initially argued by the prosecution. The result was a fine significantly lower than expected at the outset of the litigation. It isn't always possible to avoid a conviction but with the right preparation you can minimise the risks of a heavy sentence.
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