Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a debilitating condition that can result from over-exposure to vibration in the workplace.
HAV in the workplace is transmitted into workers’ hand and arms during the execution of their daily tasks. It can occur during the everyday us of any hand-held vibration power tool or hand-guided equipment, or by holding materials being processed by machines, and is most likely to come about when tools are used for uncontrolled intervals of time.
Permanent damage to nerves, muscles, blood vessels and joints in the arms, hands or wrists – a range of conditions that make up HAVS – can result from regular or frequent exposure to HAV over time. These injuries can cause pain, suffering and reduced grip strength, affecting the ability to perform everyday tasks at home and at work leading to potential loss of earnings for the victim.
Symptoms of HAVS include tingling and numbness in teh fingers, loss of hand strength and white fingers that become red and painful due to reduced blood flow to the hand (vibration white finger). Cold weather and other cold condtions to make HAVS worse and with continued use of vibration tools, the condition is likely to become permanent.
HAV is likely to come about when workers regularly use power tools and machines such as concrete breakers, sanders, grinders, disc cutters, hammer drills or powered lawnmowers.
Industries where workers are typically at high risk of exposure to vibration include construction, foundries, engineering, heavy steel fabrication and utilities.
Duties of Employers
The debilitating effects of HAVS are often underestimated and ignored in the workplace but employers have a legal, as well as an ethical responsibility to prevent their workers contracting HAVS. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 state that employers must protect their employees by assessing and identifying control measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to HAV
This means conducting suitable risk assessments and taking action to reduce exposure by providing alternative working practices or equipment if the daily exposure action values (E.AVs), or daily exposure limit values (ELVs) specified by the regulations are likely to be breached.
Risk Assessment and Management of HAV
Vibration measurement begins with the risk assessment of any equipment and work process that produces vibration to identify where there could be a risk from HAV, who is likely to be affected, whether further action needs to be taken and how this needs to be put in place.
Employees should be consulted on whether their machines produce vibration and whether they have any of the symptoms of HAV, and the machinery they are using or driving checked, so that action can be taken and controls, information, training and new work methods put in place.
The use of vibration meters to measure the amount of vibration and the length of exposure time from power tools for each operation for which they are used is fundamental to the management of the HAV strategy. Vibration meters alert the user to stop using their tools or equipment when they are approaching the maximum exposure levels, thus preventing further daily exposure and ensuring their safety.
Employers should keep their staff informed and aware of HAV by providing updated information and training and explaining good practice to them. If HAV is not monitored and controlled, the consequences for all concerned can be dire, including potential prosecutions or claims against the employer and lost productivity for the business, not to mention the ill health, pain and distress, and reduced ability to work safely, of employees.