Last edited 01 Aug 2017

Hand-arm vibration syndrome

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Contents

[edit] Introduction

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a disorder that workers in construction can be at risk of if they use vibrating tools for long periods of time. Hand-held and hand-guided power tools can cause symptoms in fingers, hands and arms, and although preventable, the damage caused is permanent.

It is unclear exactly how vibration leads to HAVS, but it is generally thought to be small, repeated injuries that are sustained by nerves and blood vessels in the fingers, as well as the joints of hand, wrist and arm, which gradually lose function.

Equipment that can pose a risk of HAVS include:

It is unusual for an operative to develop HAVS unless they use equipment for at least 10 years, but there is a risk if hammer tools are used for more than around 15 minutes per day, or if rotary, or other action tools are used for more than around 1 hour per day.

[edit] Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations were introduced under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, to improve protections for workers from the risks of vibration. They place a duty of care on employers to reduce employees’ risk from vibration.

Employers must make an assessment the ‘exposure limit value’ and ‘exposure action value’. The ‘exposure limit value’ is the maximum exposure in one day by an employee; while the ‘exposure action value’ is the daily level at which employers must take controlling measures.

A formula calculates the average (A) exposure over an 8-hour day. These values are referred to as A(8). A machine or tool’s vibration rate is measured in metres per second, and referred to as m/s2.

Daily Exposure Action Value Daily Exposure Limit Value
Hand-arm vibration 2.5 m/s² A(8) 5 m/s² A(8)

[edit] Symptoms

Some of the early symptoms that can be experienced by operatives include:

  • Numbness and loss of feeling in fingers.
  • Pins-and-needles and tingling sensations in fingers.
  • Loss of dexterity (i.e. difficulty trying to fasten buttons, handle small items, etc.).
  • Loss of strength in the hands.
  • Vibration white finger (the tips of fingers go white in cold and damp weather).

Later symptoms can include:

  • Permanent numbness in the hands.
  • A permanent lack of, or reduced, dexterity.
  • More frequent and more painful vibration white finger.

[edit] Safety and prevention measures

It is the responsibility of the employer to take safety and preventative measures, although operatives can also take steps themselves:

  • Using suitable low-vibration tools.
  • Using the right tool for the right job.
  • Checking tools are properly maintained and repaired.
  • Spreading work activities, or taking regular breaks.
  • Holding tools with a loose grip and in varying positions.
  • Preventing tools from getting cold.
  • Keeping hands warm while working.
  • Encouraging good blood circulation in the hands and fingers, by keeping them warm, exercising fingers and so on.

Operatives that are exposed to vibration should be able to recognise the early signs and symptoms of HAVS and have a health and safety officer who they can report to. They should also be aware of the control measures that the employer should have in place.

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