Machine Operator with HAVS Receives Compensation

Joanne Woodward
Author:
Joanne Woodward
Litigation Executive
Date:
09/08/2021

We helped a man who’d been diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome after using with vibrating machinery at work to claim compensation.

Mr P had worked at a local firm as a glass processor when he started experiencing stiffness in his hands. At first, he didn’t consider the symptoms to be troubling and thought that the problem would get better.

But several months later, he noticed that he was also experiencing numbness, and that the tip of his index finger on his left hand turned white in colder weather.

He sought medical advice and was told he had Raynauld’s Syndrome, a condition where the blood vessels narrow immensely in response to certain situations, such as low temperatures.

Mr P wondered if his use of vibrating machinery at work could have caused his condition, particularly as some of his colleagues were reporting similar symptoms too.

He decided to approach our expert Industrial Disease Solicitors for a free claims assessment, and I agreed to help him claim compensation for his injuries.

Mr P provided us with photographs of the whitening to his fingertip, as we suspected he may actually be suffering from Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).

Settlement Agreed after Complex Case

We approached Mr P's employer and after lengthy negotiations, a compensation settlement was agreed.

Mr P was very happy with the outcome, as it had been a complex and difficult case that lasted three and a half years.

One thing I would say is that Mr P acted quickly once symptoms of HAVS were noticed, and he sought legal advice at an early stage. Had he waited too long, his claim may well have had a very different outcome.

HAVS

Acting quickly meant his case didn’t suffer from any issues relating to the three-year time limit that apply with personal injury claims.

I speak to people every day about potential HAVS compensation claims, but many have simply left it too late to bring a claim. There are exceptions, for instance, if there’s ongoing exposure after the point when symptoms were noticed.

How We Helped

Even in cases where HAVS hasn’t been diagnosed, we can take a reasoned approach to any potential claim, drawing on our considerable expertise in this area.

The key factors here were:

      • Mr P telling us he regularly used vibrating machinery at work
      • The symptoms of whitening in his fingertips, as evidenced by the photos he provided

We approached Mr P’s employer with details of the claim, and they denied breach of duty - a failure to keep him safe at work.

The company also produced an internal report into the machinery Mr P had used, which said they produced very little vibration.

We questioned the validity of this report, as it wasn’t clear how the readings were taken. For instance, were the figures based on the machine simply being switched on or when it was in operation?

Expert Medical Assessment Leads to HAVS Diagnosis

We arranged for Mr P to be assessed by an independent vascular surgeon, who believed he was actually suffering from HAVS.

It's often the case that people have heard terminology about different types of HAVS symptoms without really understanding what this means.

The diagnosis of HAVS is broken down into two groups of symptoms.

Vascular symptoms

  • This includes colour changes to the fingers, described as blanching or whitening
  • Severe pain pain when exposed to a cold environment

Neurological symptoms

  • Caused by the compression of the median nerve - this causes pain, tingling and numbness in the hands, wrists and arms

The worst of Mr P’s symptoms were in his left hand, as he was left-handed and would use this hand to hold the glass to the arising machinery, and guide it with his right hand.

This meant that, theoretically, his left hand was exposed to higher levels of vibration than his right, but symptoms would be present in both hands.

Engineer Assesses Machine Vibrations

Mr P’s employer continued to deny breach of duty, but since we’d obtained medical evidence that supported his claim, the next step was to consider settling the case in Court.

The unknown factor in this case was of course whether or not Mr P was exposed to excessive levels of vibration during his employment with the defendant.

We arranged for the case to be heard in Court, who advised us and the employer to agree on a jointly instructed engineer who could advise on vibration levels.

An expert engineer was mutually agreed, and they took readings from the machinery Mr P had used while it was in operation, so any vibrations produced would be similar to those he had experienced at work.

Using these readings, as well as a witness statement from Mr P saying how long he’d spend using the machinery, the engineer could then estimate his daily exposure level.

Medical Evidence Proves Decisive

Employers must follow various health and safety regulations, including the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

These state that the daily exposure for vibration can be 2.5 metres per second squared until employers must take steps to reduce exposure. In this case, the engineer believed Mr P was exposed to 2.4 metres per second squared.

The expert also clarified that the vibration report obtained from Mr P’s employer earlier on used measurements to assess the condition of the machines, and weren’t suitable for working out if he had HAVS.

Meanwhile, the employer obtained their own medical evidence, which differed slightly from the report put together by our expert. Both medical experts worked to compile a joint report setting out exactly where they agreed and disagreed.

This medical evidence was important, as the engineering evidence on the vibrations produced by the machines suggested this was very much a borderline case.

Employer Could Have Done More after Problems Were Reported

Another factor taken into account was that Mr P’s employer knew that he was visiting the GP and hospital due to problems with his hands.

Despite this, they didn’t try to reduce or eliminate his exposure to vibrations at work, or take any steps to monitor his health.

This was important, as in a previous Court case, it had been determined that once symptoms start to appear, any exposure to levels of vibration above 1 meters per second squared can be deemed as dangerous.

We served the company with a formal Notice to Admit Facts, which meant they had to either admit or deny that he was exposed to dangerous levels of exposure after he started developing symptoms.

At this point, they agreed to negotiate a compensation settlement for Mr P.

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