Thanet Council has been fined £250,000 for vibration injuries to ground maintenance workers at the council´s cemeteries in Ramsgate and Margate.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation into the working conditions at the two cemeteries after twelve workers were diagnosed with White Finger Vibration Syndrome and Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome over a nine year period between 2005 and 2014.
The HSE´s investigators found that, until 2014, dozens of the council´s employees were exposed to “unacceptable levels” of vibration caused by repeated and prolonged use of grave digging tools, lawnmowers and other ground maintenance equipment for up to six hours a day.
According to the inspectors´ report, the vibration injuries to ground maintenance workers were attributable to Thanet Council´s failure to conduct a risk assessment or provide training in the safe use of vibrating tools. Forty more employees have now been referred to occupational health to assess their condition.
At Canterbury Crown Court, Judge Heather Norton said she had read reports from some of the affected staff at the Ramsgate and Margate cemeteries, and that they “make very sad reading”. Many are unable to return to work, while the vibration injuries to ground maintenance workers are affecting their home lives as well.
At the hearing to answer the charges of contravening the Control of Vibration at Work Regulation, a representative from Thanet Council read out an “unreserved apology” to the injured employees. In his statement he said the council has undertaken an extensive review of its policies and procedures to ensure this will not happen again.
“We have fundamentally changed our health and safety processes including extensive training and awareness campaigns for staff, as well as appointing a dedicated health and safety officer. With a number of new measures, tighter policies and procedures introduced and working closely with the HSE we are confident we have done all we can to mitigate this risk.”
Despite the apology and the measures taken to mitigate the risk of future vibration injuries to ground maintenance workers, the Court fined the council £250,000 and ordered that it should pay £18,325 in costs.