UK sees 42% increase in HAVS non-compliance
It has been a little over a year since the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences came into force in the UK.
The new guidelines marked much larger fines for companies found to be in breach of health and safety legislation to the tune of £10million for large companies, and more still for corporate manslaughter.
But small and medium-sized businesses did not get off lightly – they can be fined anything between £100,000 and £500,000.
The court’s zero-tolerance message was loud and clear, but yet a study has found a 42 per cent increase in the number of hand-arm vibration non-compliances last year alone.
The Building Safety Group, which is the largest construction group in the UK, carried out 20,000 independent inspections of sites in the first and latter half of 2016.
As well as a rise in the number of breaches putting employees at permanent risk of disability from over-exposure to vibration – the number of noise related non-compliances shot up by 33 per cent.
Charity Action on Hearing Loss says noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the second most common form of hearing loss after old age. Like hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), hearing loss is avoidable with appropriate and early safeguarding, but irreversible once someone has been affected.
Non-compliance means a company is failing to comply with, in these instances, the Control of Vibration at Work and Noise at Work Regulations.
Paul Kimpton, managing director at the Building Safety Group, said: "Everyone controlling construction site work has health, and not just safety responsibilities.
"Checking working conditions are healthy before work begins is essential for safeguarding against the too often devastating impact of illnesses related to occupational health.
"This of course requires careful planning and organisation beginning with the implementation of health surveillance to monitor workers who are exposed to risks such as HAVS and noise.
"So it is critical companies regularly review their systems and procedures to ensure they are compliant with UK legislation and their workforces is protected."
HAVS compensation claims on the rise
According to Sam Nicholson, a specialist industrial injury compensation solicitor at Mellor Hargreaves Solicitors, HAVS is is a very common condition which affects thousands of workers every year.
"HAVS, especially vibration white finger, is an often painful and extremely uncomfortable medical condition that can have a huge impact on the everyday lives of those affected by it.
"We have seen over the last few years an increase in HAVS claims from employees across a number of industries, so the BSG findings do not come as a complete surprise.
"The condition isn’t just affecting workers in heavy industries, such as coal mining and construction, like it used to.
"Workers such as road workers, carpenters and groundsmen are also developing HAVS from using power tools such as circular saws, sanders, chainsaws, polishers or grinders and grass strimmers."
Workplace bosses are required to carry out a risk assessment of the working environment to establish the hazards, who is at risk and to record what actions are required to control the risks.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that where employees are at risk of noise or vibration, statutory health surveillance should also be implemented to detect any ill-health effects as early as possible.
The benefits of implementation and getting it right
There are sound business reasons why companies should aim to get this right, such as:
- Protecting your workforce from accidents and disabling conditions
- Reducing your insurance premiums and legal costs
- Staff retention
- Productivity and profits
- Reducing absences and sick leave
- Boosting employee confidence in your company
- Maintaining your reputation
It is also very easy to implement health surveillance, which is a series of ongoing checks that will end up feeding back into your risk assessments, and help both bosses and staff to evaluate health risks.
Once you have addressed all of the above, avoiding a fine is easy when it is understood what can give rise to a claim in the first place.
- A breach can result from a risk just being created, rather than an injury occurring.
- HSE inspectors will take into account the ‘actual or potential harm’ arising from any breach, how far a company has fallen short of what the law requires and the extent of the risks created.
- Incident history counts for something – repeat offenders are not looked at favourably particularly if you have had previous enforcement.