Vibration White Finger and Employers' Duties

The risk of permanent disability arising from prolonged use of vibrating tools has been well known for many years and employers are obliged to protect their workers against it. The Court of Appeal analysed the extent of such duties in a case of particular interest to health and safety professionals.

A skilled engine repairer claimed that his use of needle guns and air chisels whilst working for three different employers over a period of almost 25 years had left him suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and vibration white finger, a condition characterised by vascular damage, numb fingers and loss of dexterity.

After he sued all three employers, a judge robustly rejected his claim that they had exposed him to excessive levels of vibration on a continuous basis for between 70 and 80 per cent of his working life. However, each employer admitted that they had taken no steps to warn him of the potential effects of using vibrating tools or to monitor his exposure. His claim was upheld on the basis that his condition was caused by transitory exposure, over many years, to vibration speeds above safe threshold levels.

In allowing the employers' appeal against that ruling, however, the Court noted that the man's use of vibrating tools was neither regular nor frequent. In the absence of any findings as to the frequency of exposure, or any expert evidence as to the effect of intermittent use at such a frequency, it was not open to the judge to find that the man's employers had breached the duty of care they owed him.

For further information on this topic, see the Health and Safety Executive's website.

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