The Health and Safety Executive has taken legal action against Suffolk County Council following its findings of three breaches of regulations designed to protect workers’ safety.
The Council’s highways department employs one hundred and twenty road workers, four of whom have developed hand arm vibration syndrome as a result of working with vibrating machinery over a period of several years.
Hand-held machinery such as power drills and chain saws can cause persistent but tiny amounts of damage to nerves and blood vessels within the fingers, hands and arms. Blood vessels can eventually begin to spasm, causing fingers to become white and cold. As the oxygen supply is affected by the decreased blood supply fingers can go blue, before suddenly filling with blood as the vessels dilate.
These symptoms can be accompanied by pain, throbbing and numbness, and as the syndrome progresses an individual can experience difficulties completing certain delicate but everyday tasks such as fastening buttons. The strength of their grip may also deteriorate.
In this case, it was found that the council had failed to properly assess the risks of working with such machinery and had therefore exposed its workers to debilitating injury. Without adequate health and safety training, some risks may not be apparent to workers, particularly when, as in this case, the damage is sustained gradually over a long period of time.