The effects of hand-arm vibration at work

The effects of hand-arm vibration at work

Hand-arm vibration occurs from using hand-held power tools such as road breakers, and hand-guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by machines, such as pedestal grinders. It is the cause of significant ill health for many workers across the world including painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is an occupational health issue and a common disease people get from using hand-held power tools. It affects both circulation and nerves in the fingers and can result in pain in cold weathers and permanent loss of sensation. It is believed that vibration exposure may also contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

HAVS is preventable, but still nearly two million people in the UK are at risk of developing the condition every year.

Who is at risk of developing HAVS?

People using hand-held power tools are at risk of HAVS as the vibrational energy causes tissue damage. The more energy transmitted into the tissue, the greater the damage.

The condition affects those working in heavy industries such as steel manufacture, engineering, shipyards, road repair and construction, as well as to people who use brush cutters or strimmers, power tools on production lines or in vehicle repair.

What are the symptoms?

Employers need to be aware of the symptoms of HAVS so they can take action to prevent their employees from becoming ill. Symptoms of HAVS include:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers
  • Loss of sense of touch
  • Loss of strength in the hands
  • Fingers going white and becoming red and painful on recovery, particularly in cold and wet conditions.

HAVS symptoms can appear after a few months or few years of vibration exposure – it depends on the individual.

Is there legislation in place to protect workers from developing HAVS?

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 focuses on the elimination or control of vibration exposure.

The regulations introduce an:

  • Exposure action value of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) at which level employers should introduce technical and organisational measures to reduce exposure.
  • Exposure limit value of 5.0 m/s2 A(8) which should not be exceeded.

By law, employers must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration so that employees are protected from risks to their health.

Where the risks are low, the actions employers take may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, they should manage them using a prioritised action plan to control exposure to hand-arm vibration. Control measures must be put in place to reduce vibration, and training and health surveillance must be provided to employees.

How EEUK can help prevent HAVS in your workplace

As an occupational health provider, we have the training and experience to assess whether your employees are exposed to dangerous levels of hand-arm vibration. We will provide support to help you meet safety regulations and carry out health surveillance on at-risk employees, as well as establishing vibration levels for the tools you use.

Our team will make sure your business is complying with the relevant safety laws to avoid any preventable cases of HAVS or other medical conditions.

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