Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome

What exactly is ‘HAVS’ and how do I recognise the symptoms and how do I control the risks?

Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome is a serious, irreversible, yet preventable condition that potentially affects over two million people. Over 1 million workers are exposed to dangerous vibration levels and 300,000 suffer from advanced symptoms. It is described by the HSE as ‘vibration transmitted from work processes, such as road breakers and hand guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by machines, such as pedestal grinders’.

Each year there are some 3,000 new claims for industrial injury disablement benefit, resulting directly from conditions related directly to HAVS.

Early symptoms include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers.
  • Fingers turning pale or white, becoming red and painful on recovery.
  • Being unable to feel things properly.
  • Loss of strength in the hands.

It is allied to whole body vibration (WBV), described by the HSE as ‘shaking or jolting of the human body through a supporting surface (usually a seat or the floor), for example when riding on a vehicle along an unmade road, operating earth-moving machines or standing on a structure attached to a large, powerful fixed machine which is impacting or vibrating’.

The Main legislative document is the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. As ever, one of the main requirements is to carry out a risk assessment and act on its findings (using a hierarchy of control measures designed to eliminate or control exposure), however consultation with employees as a prelude to this is also a requirement.

There should be an agreed policy for the management of vibration and it is also important to explain why full co-operation with risk control measures is in the best interests of those exposed to the risk.

Regular use of vibration tools carries with it a risk of HAVS and where the daily exposure action value (EAV) exceeds 2.5 m/sec/sec over an eight hour day, a regular health surveillance programme is required in order to medically screen those at risk. With the construction industry committed to reducing the harm from vibrating hand tools and the consequent demand for screening set to rise, digital infra-red thermal imaging has recently been introduced to the market in order to diagnose the condition. This test procedure is straightforward, simply requiring a camera with the ability to detect changes in the circulation of the blood and a laptop computer to capture the images.

With effect from July 2007, exceptions to the daily ELV of 5 m/sec/sec may only be made in the case of equipment already in use and even then, only where every other reasonable step has been taken to reduce exposure. All new tools come within the scope of the act and their use requires strict adherence to single day maximum levels.

Correct and regular inspection and maintenance of tools in use is a vital control measure as is using correct techniques. Vibration exposure can increase substantially if tools are not used in accordance with instructions or if a blunt drill bit is used.

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posted on July 15, 2010
in Safety Topics
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