Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)
National Grid has been made to twice pay compensation to a worker who was forced to take medical retirement aged just 48 because it resumed exposing him to vibrating tools after he had been diagnosed with a disabling limb condition and had been given other duties.
Keith Rydings, now 49, from Mansfield developed painful Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) after working with vibrating tools for employer National Grid Gas. He was first diagnosed with the conditions in 2000 after developing tingling and numbness in his hands and was removed from working with vibrating tools after he sued the firm for negligently exposing him to excessive levels of vibration.
By law employers must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to vibration in order to protect their employees.
Made to use the vibrating tools again
Incredibly, six years after receiving compensation with the help of his trade union the GMB and its lawyers Thompsons, new management made him return to using the tools. Despite entering a grievance Mr Rydings was forced to return to his old job in 2007 after an agreement by his bosses to put another member of staff onto the tools failed because that employee was just 17. Staff had to be 18 to use vibrating tools.
In May 2009 he returned to his GP because the condition of his hands and arms was deteriorating. He was signed off sick and in October that year had to take ill health retirement.
Mr Rydings again instructed his trade union lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a claim for compensation.
National Grid admitted liability and again settled the claim out of court.
Exposed to excessive levels of vibrating tools not once, but twice
Mr Rydings said: “I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that I’m no longer able to work. I’d been in the industry for 30 years and thought I had plenty of years working ahead of me.
“When my new boss first asked me to return to working with vibrating tools I thought he was crazy. My medical history was clear but he just wouldn’t listen to my concerns. When they said they’d provide another member of staff and I then discovered he was too young too use the tools I felt like I had no choice but to get on with it.”
Andy Worth from the GMB added: “It is shocking that National Grid allowed Mr Rydings to be exposed to excessive levels of vibrating tools not once, but twice. The employer had already paid out compensation for Mr Rydings’ condition and then put him back into a situation that they knew would mean his hands and arms would be further damaged. This is an appalling example of an employer that should have known better flouting health and safety laws needlessly and ruining the career of a hardworking man.”
Peter Magee from Thompsons Solicitors said: “The government constantly attacks health and safety regulations as being a burden on business. Cases like Mr Rydings’ show that the real burden is on employees whose health is ruined by breaches of regulations. Complying with regulations is a lot cheaper than having to pay compensation to employees who have been injured in circumstances that could easily have been avoided.”
Source: Thompsons Solicitors
LST Comment: The Control of Vibration at Work Regulation 2005 give clear guidance with regard to exposure to Hand Arm and Whole Body Vibration, with limits in place for each which should not be exceeded. Employers should seek to procure tools and equipment with the lowest vibration values and then train their staff to, not only recognise the symptoms of vibration injury, but also about the time frames they should adhere to. Employers should also keep records of individual vibration exposed and provide health surveillance to detect early warnings. Clearly individuals medical history should form part of the assessment of their competence to conduct this type of work.