Doncaster area man's six figure damages payout after glass firm fined for health and safety breaches
A Doncaster area glass worker has received a six-figure damages payout after a glazing firm was sentenced for breaching health and safety laws.
Jamie Ross now suffers from life-changing condition Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome after years of using powerful glass cutting tools while working for PSV Glass and Glazing.
The firm was recently fined £200,000 at Reading Magistrates Court after employees suffered “life-changing injuries” resulting in “constant pain”.
Now more than 20 people diagnosed with the condition have instructed specialist lawyers to take action against PSV who they say failed 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.
The High Wycombe based firm also has depots in Manchester and the East Midlands.
Among those affected was Mr Ross, 35, who no longer works for PSV.
An investigation undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive 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.
Alex Shorey, the specialist industrial injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing a number of those affected, said: “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.”
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 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.”