Hand-Arm Vibration (HAVS): A Guide for Employers

Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health, causing painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints. HAVS is preventable but unfortunately, once the damage has been done, it is permanent.

Research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests over 2 million people continue to be exposed to high levels of vibration in the workplace.

Who is at risk?

Employees are at risk if they regularly use hand-held or hand-guided power tools and machines. Hand–arm vibration is transmitted from the work activity into the workers hands and arms when:

  • operating hand-held power tools, such as concrete breakers
  • using hand-guided equipment, such as lawn mowers, trimmers and brush cutters
  • holding materials being processed by a machine, such as pedestal grinders and disc cutters.

As well as industries traditionally associated with hand-arm vibration injury such as building and maintenance of roads, mining, stone-masonry, engineering and forestry, other occupations like car mechanics, gardeners, workshop and grounds people are also affected. There is some evidence of risk to users of high-speed drills in medical/dentistry work, as well as operators of high pressure water hoses and motor cycle riders.

There is great variation in the vulnerability of individuals to vibration. This makes it hard to predict the amount of vibration that will harm an individual. Employees with pre-existing damage to the nerves or blood supply to the hands should not be exposed to hand transmitted vibration (HTV). For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure but for others it could take a few years. Symptoms are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration and may become permanent.

Effective health surveillance is therefore important to detect any HAVS symptoms early and to prevent the condition progressing. Medwyn Occupational Health’s clinicians have undergone training in the recognition and management of workers with hand-arm vibration syndrome. 

Symptoms:

Symptoms and their effect can include any combination of:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • Not being able to feel things properly therefore affecting ability to do fine work, such as assembling small components, or everyday tasks, such as fastening buttons
  • Loss of strength in the hands. Reduced grip strength can affect the ability to do work safely
  • Fingers going white (blanching) but become red and painful on recovery – particularly in the cold and wet
  • Inability to work in cold or damp conditions, such as outdoor work
  • Pain, distress  and sleep disturbance.

In addition to affecting an employee’s ability to work, HAVS can also impact their social and family life.

The Role of Occupational Health

The cost to both employees and employers in not preventing HAVS is high. Therefore the long-term aim should be to prevent new cases of HAVS occurring and consequently enable employees to remain at work without disability.

Exposure to HTV should be reduced as low as is reasonably practicable by looking for new or alternative work methods. By law, as an employer, it is your responsibility to manage your employees’ risk of HAVS. An occupational health provider can help your organisation by advising you on an appropriate health surveillance programme for your employees to detect and manage the early signs of HAVS and provide information and training to your organisation.

If you would like to find out more about how Medwyn Occupational Health can help you contact us on 01306 873936, or visit us at www.medwynoh.co.uk

For further information:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/index.htm

Control of Vibration at Work Regulation 2005 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1093/contents/made