There are many ways to avoid getting HAVs especially arranging working patterns to reduce excessive exposure to vibrating equipment, or using modern equipment, much of which has been re-designed to dampen vibration levels. In 2005 the Health and Safety Executive issued The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations which set out exposure limits and provided employers with advice about how to safely manage vibrating equipment and protect the health of staff. I understand that in the decade since these regulations were introduced the number of HAVs cases in the workplace have been steadily declining. But not at Thanet District Council.
Earlier this year the Isle of Thanet Gazette reported that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was investigating TDC following complaints that some staff may have contracted HAVs. I spoke to a senior council officer shortly before the May elections who confirmed the accuracy of the Thanet Gazette article. He also said to me that he believed that the resignation of another senior council officer early in 2015 may possibly have been linked to the HSE investigation into the HAVs cases. It has since been reported to me by another council insider that the number of suspected cases of HAVs is into double figures which, if true, raises some serious questions about Health and Safety practices at TDC.
Although I am speculating, reports that HAVs cases are in double figures at TDC suggest to me that there has been a long term institutional neglect of health and safety management at the council because HAVs doesn’t simply happen overnight it’s a condition which generally develops following prolonged and excessive exposure to vibrating equipment over a number of years. If this is true then it’s also a possibility that health and safety management records may have been falsified to give the impression that the Council had been following HSE Regulations when it might not have been. In this regard it’s interesting to note that last year and early this year reviews of the Council’s Corporate Risk Register which include an evaluation of risks in the services where HAVs appears to have been identified, suggested that everything was fine when clearly it probably wasn't.
|Canterbury Crown Court|
So apart from the worrying possibility that TDC may have breached its duty of care towards its staff, where does this leave the council? I think the answer is likely to be "up to its neck in shit" and having to pay out £millions. First up it’s likely that TDC will face several compensation claims and associated legal bills for allegedly damaging the health of its staff. I doubt that these costs will be covered by the Council’s insurance policy as it would appear, from what I have been told, that health and safety procedures and regulations might not have been followed. It’s hard to say what the total might be because compensation will vary from case to case, but I reckon as a bare minimum you are talking about £2 million – perhaps a lot more. Because don’t forget that the HAVs cases and the apparent lack of safety management took place over a long period of time, so there might be many ex-council staff who have contracted this awful condition who will also have right to compensation too. So it’s entirely possible that once this issue is fully investigated and once everyone involved has been contacted there could possibly be 20, 30 or maybe even more serving or ex-TDC staff who have contracted HAVs related conditions which may have been preventable had the council followed the rules.
Second what will the HSE do? Again this is pure speculation, but the HSE Enforcement Protocol says that it will prosecute employers where serious harm has been caused to staff; where employers have recklessly disregarded health and safety procedures; where the standard of managing health and safety is found to be well below what is required by health and safety law and giving rise to significant risk. Clearly the alleged actions of Thanet Council meet all of the HSE’s prosecution criteria so my guess is that sometime next year TDC may find itself in the dock for major breaches of health and safety rules and for allegedly fucking up the health of 20-30 serving or ex-employees.
For crimes as serious as these its likely that such a case would be heard by the Crown Court who under current sentencing guidelines would be able to impose an unlimited fine on an offender. Interestingly, if an HSE investigation identifies individual culpability for breach of safety rules or harm to staff or the public the person (s) identified as being responsible can also be prosecuted by the courts and may even be sent to prison. Once again it’s impossible to second guess what penalties a court might impose on TDC for its alleged failing. However if what has been reported in the press and told to me in confidence is true then this is an extremely serious criminal matter and I can’t see TDC getting much change from £2million when any potential legal bills, fines and costs are taken into account.
So if my speculation proves to be correct then TDC may well have to pay out, sometime next year, up to £4million in compensation, fines and legal costs for allegedly causing serious harm to its staff and breaching safety rules. Add this to the reported £2.2 million overspend on Dreamland, the £2.6 million compensation to the live animal exporters and the £3.4 losses from the secret Transeuropa Ferries debt deferral deal and you have the astronomic figure of £12.2 million , or £202 per household, which some people might say has been wasted as a consequence of serial political and managerial maladministration at TDC.
This incredible situation suggests to me that the management of TDC is well fucked-up and that the authority needs to have its governance procedures thoroughly reviewed and overhauled, especially the role of elected councillors. I have said it on many occasions before and will say it again TDC is, in my opinion, one of the worst run local councils in the country and needs sorting out big time. And although I am angry that this alleged mismanagement might have cost £12.2 million over 4 years, I'm also furious that some of the Council's staff might have had their health screwed up as well!