24 workers develop nerve conditions

An aerospace engineering firm has been fined £125,000 for a series of safety failings after 24 employees developed nerve conditions in their hands and arms.

SPS Aerostructures Ltd, of Willow Drive, Annesley, Nottinghamshire, was also ordered to pay £65,805 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Its workers were exposed to high levels of vibration over many years and as a result developed either carpal tunnel syndrome or Hand Arm Vibration syndrome (HAVS).

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include a reduction in the ability to grip, as well as pins and needles – particularly at night.

Those diagnosed with HAVS will also experience pins and needles as well as blanching and a numb feeling in their fingers, especially when it is cold.

Problem was known since 2005

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an investigation and decided to prosecute SPS Aerostructures Ltd at Nottingham Crown Court.

The court was told that HSE was notified in 2010 that an employee had been diagnosed with HAVS, but that the issue was known in company since at least 2005, when SPS’s health and safety committee called for a risk assessment for exposure to vibration.

Several of the company’s tools, including grinders, hammers and drills, were identified as posing a high risk in a subsequent assessment in 2006, but these were not taken out of service and the company failed to put controls on their use until four years later.

It was also found that some workers brought their own tools to work, which were not subject to assessment and therefore no controls were put in place either.

Several employees needed operations

While SPS Aerostructures provided some health surveillance for its workers, it failed to spot nerve injury symptoms early – which meant employees were not referred to occupational health experts in time to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

Some of the employees had to have operations on their hands and arms, while some could no longer carry out the work they were doing.

One employee, a skilled metal sheet worker, was initially given a new job without any exposure to vibration, but he was later made redundant and can now no longer work in this field.

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