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Rope access workers shoring up Devon cliffs developed HAVS, HSE found

Devon based company that undertakes specialised cliff stabilisation work has been fined £36,667 after three employees developed hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) from using rock drills and other powered tools while suspended from abseiling ropes.

 

A director of Celtic Rock Services has also received a suspended prison sentence at Plymouth Magistrates' Court.  

The court heard that employees would abseil down cliff faces to fix rock bolts and rock anchors into the cliffs, using jack hammers and rock drills in a horizontal position while hanging from ropes.

Three employees developed and reported symptoms of HAVS, such as pins and needles and aching hands, with one case originating in 2000.

The HSE also found that, in one case, an employee’s HAVS symptoms were allowed to develop to the stage where they became life altering.

However, the company took no action and the HSE found that a risk assessment failed to identify workers’ actual exposure, and had used out of date vibration data.

 

This was a case of the company and its director completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS risk assessment and health surveillance

HSE inspector Caroline Penwill

 

Employees were not made aware of HAVS and its symptoms, and when staff did report symptoms, the company failed to take action.

There was no health surveillance in place until 2016, at which point Celtic Rock Services employed an occupational nurse who identified the HAVS problem. 

The HSE served an improvement notice against Celtic Rock Services on 20 July 2017, with the conditions being met by September 2017.

In court, Celtic Rock Services of Bossell Road, Buckfastleigh, Devon, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The company was fined £36,667 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £3,560.

Company director Alwyn Griffith Hughes Thomas, also of Bossell Road, Buckfastleigh, Devon, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Thomas was given a 12 week custodial sentence, suspended for one year, a 12 week curfew and ordered to pay costs of £3,560.

Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector Caroline Penwill said: “This was a case of the company and its director completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS risk assessment and health surveillance.

“If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers health and the employees’ conditions would not have been allowed to develop, one of which was to a severe, life altering stage.”

According to its website, Celtic Rock Services undertakes cliff stabilisation work, rock drilling and the fixing of rock anchors for construction companies and local authorities.

The website suggests that “all working practices conform to the specific health and safety requirements for each individual project”.

However, after it put improvements in place on HAVS, Celtic Rock Services had a second brush with the HSE over workers’ exposure to welding fumes. 

On 2 April 2019 the HSE served a further improvement notice, saying that the firm had failed to provide employees with sufficient training to protect themselves from the serious health effects associated with welding fumes, and had failed to ensure that workers were using the powered welding hood provided.

The notice had a compliance dare of 30 April 2019 which was met, according to the HSE enforcement database.

From: https://www.healthandsafetyatwork.com/news-and-prosecution/devon-firm-fined-for-life-altering-havs-after-cliff-work-on-ropes
 
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