Hand-Arm Vibration (HAVS)

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What is Hand-Arm Vibration?

Hand-arm vibration (HAV) is caused by the vibrations from handheld vibrating tools and machinery, resulting in damage to a person’s fingers, hands and/or arms. If a person is frequently exposed to these vibrations, it can lead to harm-arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome, both of which have extremely debilitating symptoms. The good thing is that with the right controls in place, HAV disorders can be prevented, however, once the damage is done, the end result is permanent.

Symptoms of HAV

Early warning signs of hand-arm vibration include:

  • Tingling and/or numbness in the fingers,
  • Lack of feeling in fingers,
  • Loss of strength in hands; and
  • Cold and/or wet conditions resulting in the tips of fingers turning white, then to red, with pain upon recovery (known as vibration white finger).

If these symptoms are spotted early enough, action can be taken to avoid permanent damage occurring. However, if the tools triggering HAV continue to be used, the damage is irreversible.

Developed symptoms include:

  • Pain and sleep disturbance,
  • Permanent numbness, meaning a person may lose their sense of touch,
  • Difficulty picking up small objects and a loss of grip; and
  • Vibration white finger occurring more frequently.

Legal Requirements around Hand-Arm Vibrations (HAV)

Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, as an employer, you are required to assess, identify and control risks from vibration as far as reasonably possible. Under this law, employers are also required to provide information and training to employees on the risks, and the actions that will be taken to reduce this.

High-Risk Jobs & Industries

  • Roads and railway building and maintenance work
  • Construction
  • Estate management (eg maintenance of grounds and parks)
  • Forestry
  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing concrete products
  • Mining
  • Vehicle manufacture and repair
  • Public utilities (eg water, gas, electricity, telecommunications)

Source: HSE

Tools Putting Workers at Risk

Some of the tools that put workers at an increased risk of HAVS include:

  • Chainsaws
  • Saws
  • Hammer drills
  • Grinders (hand-held and pedestal)
  • Impact wrenches
  • Polishers
  • Power tools (such as hammers)
  • Powered lawn mowers
  • Powered sanders
  • Strimmers

Source: HSE

Managing Risks & Protecting Employees

If your organisation operates within any of the above industries, or use any of the tools listed above, it is your legal obligation to manage and reduce these risks. Bringing in a health surveillance service provider is the most effective way to manage these hazards and ensure that you are protecting your employees from vibration-related risks.

During our visit, we may carry out HAVS assessments under the tier system which was introduced by The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations. This tiered system is split into four separate phases:

  • Tier 1 – We undertake an initial assessment before the employee begins using the vibrating tools. This is particularly important for new employees, a switch in job role or if new process/tools have been introduced.
  • Tier 2 – This is an annual assessment which should be carried out on employees who have exposure to vibrating tools within their job role.

For those that show potential HAVS symptoms within tier 1 or 2 assessments, they will be referred for a more in-depth assessment with our health surveillance team.

  • Tier 3 – We will carry out a more in-depth assessment, along with tests to evaluate if the individual is required to progress to tier 4.
  • Tier 4 – At this final stage, a final diagnosis will be required by a Doctor.

Protection Tips Against HAVS

There are ways to protect yourself and your employees against HAVS, which include adapting the way you work and the machinery you use at work. If the job cannot be done without using vibrating tools and machinery, you can:

  • Make sure that the right tool is used for the right job.
  • Provide high quality, low vibration tools.
  • Check and maintain all equipment to make sure they work correctly.
  • Replace or discard any damaged tools to avoid increased vibration caused by faults.
  • Make sure all cutting tools are sharp.
  • Encourage your staff to keep good blood circulation by keeping warm and dry.
  • Reduce the amount of time a tool is used in one go.

How we can help

We will work with you to ensure your employees are protected from vibration damage, and for those that show potential symptoms of HAVS – the right steps are put in place to stop permanent damage being caused. Avoid mitigation by partnering with health surveillance experts, protect your employees and your organisation. Get in touch if you have any questions about Harm-Arm Vibration or to discuss your requirements further.

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