Powys Teaching Health Board has been fined £160,000 for "serious and systemic failures" to address health and safety risks after a group of workers were left with permanent damage to their hands.

At least three workers in the health board's estates department now suffer "terrible" pain that has affected their day-to-day life after they were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), which is caused by exposure at work to vibration tools such as drills and lawn mowers.

The health board, which has not been prosecuted before, apologised to the workers and pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees in relation to the risks arising from the use of vibration tools, which happened before 2020.

Wrexham Magistrates' Court was told that the health board had "fallen far below the appropriate standards" after a Health and Safety Executive investigation found there were no assessments to identify the risks and control measures.

District Judge Gwyn Jones said the original starting point was £1.1 million but he significantly reduced the fine after considering the effects the higher costs would have on the health board's ability to provide a "valuable service to the people of Powys".

He said: "I have to consider the board’s ability to pay the fine and how it will impact the ultimate turnover and also consider the staff pay increase, energy costs increase, medical costs, and significant costs within the coming few years.


"They may not get all that from the Welsh Government because of the economic realities."

The health board's barrister told the court that the estate's department was "rotten" amid a failure within the management structure which included an employee who was prosecuted for fraud.

"They [the workers] have been stalwarts and the board failed, failed them and failed their employees generally," Nigel Fryer said. "Today it is a million miles away from the unmanaged processes that occurred before,"

"Prior to 2019 there was no training. Post it is very much at the forefront. They have weeded out poor equipment. They are very much on top of it.

"It’s not just a public message that is important, it’s to ensure there is compliance. Powys Teaching Health Board has ticked that box."

He added: "The situation has been rectified."

Chief Executive Carol Shillabeer says...

“Powys Teaching Health Board fully accepts today’s verdict and we apologise to affected staff and their families.

"We have ensured that learning has been put into effect, and we have made crucial improvements to prevent such events from happening again.

“We have a strong commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing and hope the improvements we have made provide reassurance to staff and to the public.”

District Judge Gwyn Jones told the court that is was clear there had been a "complete sea change" in Powys Teaching Health Board's approach to health and safety with vibration tools.

"There had been existing breaches over a long time," he said. "There was a serious and systemic failures to address risks.

"It would appear there were insufficient steps to identify the symptoms and risks placed and cause as result of these tools."

He added that it was "fortunate" that the number of people exposed had been "relatively low", but said the breach had caused harm to those affected.

"It should also be remembered that HAVS is not a little add-on; it touches on all aspects of the operation of the health board," he said.

"No doubt there would be procedures of dealing with the use of equipment, medicine and beds and it is regrettable that the use of lawn mowers and drills seems to have been forgotten."

"I am fully aware any fine will impact on the bottom line and the ability on the health board to provide a valuable service to people in Powys."

The judge ordered Powys Teaching Health Board to pay a £160,000 fine and £5,999.63 court costs within six months.