Repeated and frequent exposure to vibrating tools can cause serious disability in your hands, affecting your ability to work and perform everyday tasks. What is hand-arm vibration syndrome and what should employers do to reduce the risks?
What is Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)?
Hand-arm vibration is one of two disabilities that are caused by exposure to high values of vibration. This vibration comes from power tools, such as powered hammers, handheld sanders and chainsaws.
Frequently using tools that use a high level of vibration can cause permanent numbness in your fingers and muscle weakness, which can make it hard to complete everyday tasks such as picking up smaller objects.
Hand-arm vibration syndrome can also cause pain and sleep disturbance and can limit your ability to work in cold and damp conditions which can cause finger blanching. Finger blanching means your finger/s turning white as the blood flow is restricted from flowing to these areas.
Symptoms of Hand-arm vibration syndrome
- Loss of strength
- Tingling and numbness
- Cannot feel or pick things up
- Fingertips turn white and then red
Who is at risk of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)?
Frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can be experienced by any individual using power tools, however it is most common in these fields:
- Gardening, landscaping & forestry
- Utilities (Gas, water, telecoms, etc)
- Construction and groundworks
- Civil construction
- Motor vehicle manufacture and repair
- Shipbuilding and ship repair.
Which equipment could cause hand-arm vibration syndrome?
Individuals who use this or similar equipment will often be exposed above the EAV:
- Powered hammer
- Floor polisher, floor saws, mowers
- Handheld sander
- Impact drill
- Scaling hammer including needle scalers
- Powered hammers for chipping, demolition, road breaking etc;
- Sanders and polishers;
- Hand-held saws for concrete, metal, ground clearance etc
The size of the risk depends on how long you are continually using these tools and the level of hand-arm vibration you are being exposed to.
If you and your company are aware of the risks of hand-arm vibration syndrome, then you can properly prevent harm and reduce the risk of HAVS.
How can I prevent hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)?
For workers who use vibrating tools as part of their job, there are some steps to take before suffering any of the symptoms to reduce your chances of developing the condition. Try to hold tools loosely and in varying positions, and ensure they are well maintained. The more work the tool does, the less you have to use your own force. It’s also essential to ensure you have been properly trained in their correct use.
As an employee or an employer alike, you should be taking every step possible to reduce the risk of hand-arm vibration syndrome.
Cold temperatures are a major contributing factor to hand-arm vibration syndrome, and it takes significantly less energy to keep your hands warm rather than let them cool and then warm them up. Make sure any employees working with vibrating equipment has gloves that they can wear not only to keep their hands safe but also warm. Moving your hands around at regular intervals to increase blood circulation can also help prevent damage from hand-arm vibration.
The best prevention for hand-arm vibration syndrome is making sure that employees aren’t working with the vibrating tool for a long period of time. Rotating employees around ensures that they are only using the tool for a limited amount of time, therefore reducing the risk of developing hand-arm vibration syndrome.
Assess and maintain equipment
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 aim to protect workers against health risks from vibration.
These regulations introduce action and limit values for hand-arm and whole-body vibration. This means you will need to ensure the tools your employees use are under this limit. If you comply with the Vibration Regulations you will prevent disability from HAVS and vibration-related carpal tunnel syndrome.
Hold tools loosely and change grip frequently
Holding tools loosely and frequently changing your grip can reduce the levels of vibration that travel to your hands.
Take frequent breaks from using vibrating tools
Taking frequent short breaks is vital to preventing hand-arm vibration syndrome. Regular short intervals are more effective than longer breaks. Any actions taken to reduce the amount of time using hand-arm vibration equipment will help to reduce the risk of hand-arm vibration syndrome.
According to HSE, you are likely to experience the exposure action value (EAV) after:
- Using a hammer action tool for about 15 minutes; or
- Using a non-hammer action tool for about one hour.
This is assuming your tool is modern, well designed and maintained.
You are likely to reach the exposure limit value after:
- Using a hammer action tool for about one hour; or
- Using a non-hammer action tool for about four hours.
Is Hand-Arm Vibration Training a legal requirement?
The Vibration Regulations require you to:
- Ensure that vibration risks are controlled
- Provide information, instruction and training to employees on the risk and the actions being taken to control that risk
- Provide suitable health surveillance.
The Vibration Regulations provide an exposure action value (EAV) and an exposure limit value (ELV) based on a combination of the vibration at the grip point(s) on the equipment or workpiece and the time spent gripping it.
Exposure action value = the value of vibration at which repeated exposure could put you are at risk for hand-arm vibration syndrome.
The exposure action limit is a daily limit and should not be surpassed. This value represents a high risk and employees should not be exposed to vibration levels above this value.
The exposure action and limit values are:
- A daily EAV of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) which represents a clear risk requiring management; and
- A daily ELV of 5 m/s2 A(8) which represents a high risk above which employees should not be exposed.
Refresher Training Guidance
To keep your hand-arm vibration training up to date, you will need to partake in a refresher course every three years. It is also advised that you update your training if your operational equipment or materials.
As an employer, it is your legal duty to minimise risk and provide health surveillance to those who are at risk of a hand-arm vibration-related disability. Taking part in a hand-arm vibration awareness course could protect your employees against an avoidable workplace disability.
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
This HAV training course has been designed for employees who have a duty to manage the risks of vibration in the workplace, as well as those who use vibrating equipment or tools or hold components being worked on by machinery.