SEVERAL staff at a Newport manufacturing firm developed serious vibration injuries to fingers and hands because their employer failed to manage the risk, a court was told.
The employees of Asset International Limited, whose Stephenson Street plant produces high density plastic pipes for transporting waste and water, developed conditions including hand-arm vibration syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vibration white finger through long term and unrestricted use of vibrating power tools.
The company faces hefty fines and costs after pleading guilty to four breaches of health and safety at work regulations. Judge Daniel Williams will pass sentence tomorrow at Newport Crown Court.
Prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, Carl Harrison detailed the injuries seven employees developed up to and shortly after October 2013, when one had reported problems with his fingers affecting his ability to pick up and grip items, and numbness and tingling that was particularly sensitive to cold.
He was subsequently diagnosed with hand-arm vibration syndrome. Mr Harrison said the employee had first reported problems in 2010 to his line manager, who had been "blasé" about the issue.
Mr Harrison said risk of injury, especially to hands and arms, from using vibrating power tools, such as grinders, saws and drills, is well known.
"Control of vibration regulations directly deal with this particular problem. There are duties on employers to protect employees from hand, arm, and whole body vibration," he said, adding that risk assessments are required, along with elimination of exposure to vibrations or as close as possible, and regular health surveillance.
At Asset however, he said there was "exposure to vibrations vastly exceeding regulations" and no monitoring or limits set to using machinery.
Some staff using vibrating tools had been working 10 hours overtime a week, there was no assessment for risk of vibration to those working in fabricating bays, and no steps taken to reduce exposure to vibration to a practical level.
Defence counsel Lisa Roberts QC said Asset International Limited, which employs more than 80 people, "had and continues to have health and safety at its core".
It acknowledges, she said, that these are serious breaches but it has not "flagrantly ignored the strictures of the health and safety for decade on decade" and would not have continued to secure the types of contracts it has, had it done so.
"Many good things have come out of the intervention by the HSE. Following HSE and company investigations, lessons have, and will continue to be, learned," she said.
The company has since complied with an HSE improvement notice arising from the issues before the court, and most of the affected employees remain with the company.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds has been invested in new equipment and machinery to reduce the need to cut pipe products by hand, and risk assessment, health surveillance, training and information has been improved.
"The company is doing its best and has made huge inroads into making this as safe a process as it could possibly be," said Miss Roberts.