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Young greenkeeper awarded damages after vibrating machinery ended career
A young greenkeeper had his fledgling career cut short after he developed the condition vibration white finger, as a result of using vibrating machinery.
Neil McCann developed the condition – technically referred to as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) - when he was just 21 years old, a surprisingly young age for someone to begin suffering with an occupational injury usually associated with miners or manual workers who have spent many years using vibrating equipment.
“I’d been working for Channels Golf Club in Chelmsford since December 2006, and it was in the middle of 2008 when I first noticed some symptoms,” said Mr McCann, who is now 26 and living in Paignton. “The first time was when I was riding on a mower. At first it was mostly in my left hand - specifically my middle three fingers down to the second knuckle. They had turned white and it felt like I had pins and needles,” he said. “It was very strange, and I wasn’t sure what it was. It gradually became worse over a period of a couple of months, and by then I was having symptoms in both hands.”
HAVS is a disorder caused by vibrating machinery which can affect the blood vessels, nerves, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm. The symptoms usually involve the fingers turning white due to the blood vessels being affected, and a pronounced tingling sensation and loss of feeling.
“I mentioned it to my colleagues and my manager, but nobody seemed concerned or advised me to see a doctor,” said Mr McCann. “Although I’d been working at the golf club for 18 months by then, I was still quite young and naïve, so I didn’t want to make a fuss about something I didn’t really understand. It was only when I was reading an article in a British Institute of Greenkeepers magazine a few months later that I started to worry.
“I went to see my doctor in January 2009,” said Mr McCann. “He told me I had Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, and warned me that if I continued using the vibrating tools I risked suffering permanent damage.”
Mr McCann said a typical ‘attack’ would last for about 30 to 45 minutes. “I was having as many as three attacks a week during the cold winter months, and a little less during the summer,” he said. “In February 2009 I resigned from the golf club on my doctor’s advice, to avoid making my condition worse.”
Mr McCann sought the help of Lesley Mynett, a specialist industrial illness lawyer with Fentons Solicitors, part of Slater & Gordon, who successfully secured compensation of £20,000. “Along with the other groundsmen, Neil undertook a wide variety of jobs around the golf course including fairways, greens, bunkers, hedges and trees,” said Miss Mynett. “Obviously in order to do this work, he used a variety of vibrating tools such as hedgecutters, strimmers and chainsaws, as well as vibrating rollers and mowers.
“Neil obtained his chainsaw licence in the middle of 2008, and after that he carried out the majority of work requiring such a tool,” she said. “Sometimes his work would involve using the chainsaw for up to seven hours in one day as he worked on trees alongside the fairway.
“The problem was that throughout his two years of working at the golf club, the level of vibration given out by the equipment Neil was using was never checked,” she said, “moreover there was not even a tool available to check the vibration levels.”
Miss Mynett, who for many years has represented people who have been injured as a result of their work, said that Mr McCann had at no time been made aware of any dangerous levels of vibration from the equipment, nor was he given any warnings about their prolonged use.
“After leaving his job at the golf club, Neil struggled to find suitable work,” she said. “He has always worked and so was keen to take on anything he could, including stints as a caravan park cleaner, a hotel room attendant and an amusement arcade attendant.
“But his true passion and vocation was working outdoors in gardening and maintenance,” said Miss Mynett. “Unfortunately he was turned down from a number of positions after disclosing his condition.”
Mr McCann said he struggled to find suitable employment over the next couple of years because of his HAVS.
“I suffered a significant loss of earnings during periods of unemployment, and even when I was able to work it was earning considerably less than when I was at the golf club,” he said.
“After some time working as a volunteer gardener with the National Trust, I was hired to work at Paignton Zoo last summer on a three month contract. Well over a year later I’m still here; I absolutely love my role looking after the food store and sometimes even take part in feeding the animals.”
Miss Mynett said the settlement took into account Mr McCann’s lost earnings as well as the pain and suffering he has endured. “Neil had his career cut short through no fault of his own,” she said. “All he ever did was work diligently and carry out the duties he was assigned by his employer. But as a result, his chosen career – one he loved, trained for and was accomplished at – has been taken away from him.
“I’m delighted we were able to settle his claim and even more so that he has managed to forge a new career at the zoo. But Neil’s case should serve as a stark reminder to anyone working with vibrating equipment that there are strict policies in place regarding the use of such equipment,” she said. “It is vital that equipment is tested and checked to protect people from suffering as Neil has.”
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