Number Of Past And Present Employees Diagnosed With Life-Changing Condition Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome
More than 20 people diagnosed with a life-changing industrial condition have instructed specialist lawyers as a glass company was fined for health and safety breaches.
PSV Glass and Glazing Ltd has been sentenced in connection with failing to ensure the safety of staff who used a fein cutter – a handheld tool that vibrates. The tool was used as part of a cutting process when removing windows and screens from commercial vehicles such as trains, trams, buses and coaches.
Many of the group have been diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). It includes past and present employees of the firm based in High Wycombe, and which also has depots in Manchester and the East Midlands.
Among those affected by the condition is a former fitter from Rotherham who no longer works for PSV, and a warehouse man from Buckinghamshire still employed by the company.
An investigation undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that before ceasing use of the fein cutter in mid-2019, PSV Glass and Glazing Limited failed to adequately assess the risks of using vibrating tools, put in place measures to control the risk, provide suitable instruction and training on the risks to employees and place the employees under suitable health surveillance to monitor their condition.
The HSE subsequently brought criminal proceedings against the company for breaching the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The firm was fined £211,290.04, including a victim surcharge of £70. It pleaded guilty of the charges.
Expert Opinion“We represent many people in their 30s and 40s who have gone on to develop HAVS they believe as a result of using this specific tool during their employment with PSV Glass and Glazing Limited.
HAVS has a severe effect on a person’s daily life and future employment prospects. Sufferers go on to develop a loss of feeling, pain and a lack of fine motor skills in their hands which results in them struggling to work, particularly within the same industry. They can also find simple everyday tasks, such as doing up buttons and picking things up, challenging. In addition, the condition often deteriorates over time and there is currently no cure.
Undoubtedly, our clients’ experiences will be all too familiar to many others affected by HAVS.
While nothing can make up for what they are going through we welcome the HSE’s prosecution and hope it reminds all employers of their responsibilities to ensure the safety of their workers.
We’ll continue to support those we represent in order to help them access the specialist care and therapies they require because of their condition so they can move forward with their lives as best they can.”
Alex Shorey - Associate Solicitor
Symptoms of HAVS include attacks of whitening of the fingers, tingling and loss of sensation, loss of grip strength, and pain and cold sensations between whitening attacks.
Jamie Ross, 35, began working for PSV as an installation technician in April 2013. He was based at the company’s Manchester depot. For three years, he worked as a second man assisting the work carried out by another employee, who he understands also suffers from HAVS.
As part of his role, he undertook project work, attending sites with colleagues to complete refitting of numerous trams or trains. He reported the work involved prolonged and sustained use of a fein cutter.
As a second man, Jamie estimated he undertook 50 per cent of the cutting work, increasing to 75 per cent when he became a first man, leading the jobs he was involved in, around October 2016. The fein cutter was used “on almost every job” for “at least an hour to an hour and a half at a time.”
Jamie began suffering from whitening of his fingertips in late 2015. Around two years later, he complained of pain while gripping the cutter, as well as persistent tingling.
In mid-2018, Jamie completed a health surveillance questionnaire, and he was sent for an occupational health medical in February 2019. He was subsequently told to stop using the tools.
He ended his employment with PSV in July this year and now works as an area manager for a windscreen company.
His legal team at Irwin Mitchell recently secured him a six-figure settlement sum, after PSV admitted liability for Jamie developing HAVS.
Jamie lives with his wife Kimberley and son Kobie, eight. He also has another son, Kayden, who is 14.
He said: “When carrying out the cutting work, the fein cutter had to be held in both hands and there was always a pressure and expectation to use it due to time restrictions.
“It’s no surprise to me that a number of other fitters I worked with have also been diagnosed with HAVS.
“I continue to suffer badly with my hands on a daily basis, and they are particularly bad during the winter months when I suffer with regular and debilitating attacks of my hands and fingers whitening.
“I also suffer from cramps and aching in my hands every day and the tingling and numbness wakes me in the night. When I try to stretch my hands out, it’s really painful.
“Before developing HAVS, I used to enjoy carp fishing but I’ve had to give that up now due to my hands, and I’ve also had to limit how much I can go cycling and play football and golf. Simple tasks, such as driving, gardening, and even washing up, are a real struggle now, as is just about anything that involves using my hands. My life has changed a lot.
“Sadly, I know that my condition is likely to affect the rest of my life, but there is nothing I can do about it. I’m just grateful that the settlement will ensure I have the financial stability I need.
“All I can do now is urge employers to put their workers first by following health and safety precautions.”
Paul Janes, 47, began working for PSV in December 2006 as a forklift driver and warehouse man.
In around 2012, he began going out on jobs as a second man with the fitters and undertook project work, before starting work towards becoming a first man in 2016 which involved more use of a fein cutter. He estimated he would be operating the tool for around 45 minutes per job, and on average would complete three to four jobs per shift.
He also reported that working on the tubes required greater use of the fein cutter and was “harder on the hands.”
He first noticed a tingling sensation on the tips of his fingers around November 2017. By the start of 2018, they were turning white.
His condition worsened over the next year, and he continues to suffer from symptoms on a daily basis including cramps and locking in both hands.
He said: “I recall that one of my colleagues that I worked alongside as a second man, suffered badly with this hands. I remember him saying it was years of exposure, but I thought that if I wore the anti-vibration gloves we were provided and tried to use the cutter less, I would be okay.
“In January 2019, I was sent a letter from PSV stating that I was not permitted to use the fein cutter or any handheld power tools. That September I was taken off all tools and glass fitting altogether, which was recommended by my doctor due to my hand cramping. I’m now back in the warehouse.
“I am aware of a number of other colleagues and former colleagues who have also suffered from HAVS.
“Since developing the condition, I am unable to go swimming or fishing, both of which I used to really enjoy. Even meeting my friends for a drink is something I do less of as I find the attacks of whitening embarrassing, and I struggle to do simple jobs such as washing my car. I also have to get someone in to do any decorating or DIY.
“Had I not developed HAVS, my plan was to work my way up in my career or start out on my own, but this is no longer an option for me.
“I feel like my whole life has been impacted by this and, while I can’t change it, I deserve some answers for what I’ve been put through – everyone does.”
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