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Balfour Beatty are fined £500,000.00 after workers develop hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)

Balfour Beatty has been fined £500,000.00 after workers in its utility business were put at risk of developing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) over a nine year period.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that between 2002 and 2011 Balfour Beatty failed to minimize the use of handheld power tools such as hydraulic breakers and floor saws, or assess and monitor their work or exposure to HAVS. The HSE also noted that the company had failed to report a number of cases of employees being diagnosed with HAVS to the relevant authorities.

Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty at the Sheffield Crown Court, to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and failing to report injuries under the Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995.  In addition to a fine of £500,000.00, Balfour Beatty was also ordered to pay costs of £195,000.00.

An HSE inspector was quoted as saying, “The company failed to give warnings. Early health surveillance detected ill health but still was not acted upon and to prevent ongoing exposure. This is a particularly serious case because of the extent in a duration of failures. The breaches were repeated over several years and this resulted in persistent poor compliance.”

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said, “The shortcomings in processes identified in this case took place many years ago and were addressed prior to the start of the investigation by the HSE. The Judge acknowledged both this and that there was no evidence of anyone come into harm as a result. Balfour Beatty takes its responsibilities both the health and safety extremely seriously.”

The company also added that it was working to prevent new cases of HAVS.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is caused by the excessive exposure to vibration.

It is also commonly referred to as VWF (Vibration White Finger).

Symptoms of HAVS generally start with numbness and/or tingling in the fingers and may also be accompanied by a blanching (whiteness) in the fingertips. Suffers may notice this more in colder weather. Vibration will cause a deprivation of blood during a spasm of the blood vessels and the symptoms are very similar to those associated with Reynaud’s phenomenon which is constitutional in nature.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for HAVS/VWF and the condition is untreatable.

It is often the case that suffers will be forced to give up pastimes such as swimming, outdoor sports, gardening and DIY. It can often lead sufferers to change careers or suffer a handicap on the open labour market as a result of not being able to remain in a profession where vibrating tools are used.

Johnathan Steventon-Kiy, a Chartered Legal Executive with Swain & Co Solicitors says,

“HAVS/VWF is a very debilitating condition and the effects can be far reaching. More often than not, such a diagnosis may lead to a sufferer losing their job and suffering financial strain as a result. If you are suffering from the symptoms of HAVS/VWF and have used vibrating tools during the course of your employment, I would urge you to contact us for free advice on what to do next and how the Industrial Disease team at Swain & Co Solicitors can help you”

 Johnathan Steventon-Kiy and the Industrial Disease team at Swain & Co Solicitors regularly win compensation for their clients who suffer from industrial diseases, including asbestos related illnesses. If you, a family member or a friend suffer from an industrial disease contact our team today on 02392 483 322.

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