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Last edited 19 Jun 2018
Hand-arm vibration syndrome
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.
- Chipping hammers.
- Concrete breakers.
- Disc cutters.
- Hammer drills
- Pneumatic drills.
- Pedestal grinders.
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.
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.
|Daily Exposure Action Value||Daily Exposure Limit Value|
|Hand-arm vibration||2.5 m/s² A(8)||5 m/s² A(8)|
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.
- 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.
In 2018, following an investigation by HSE, Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions was prosecuted for exposing its workers to hand-arm vibration between 2002 and 2011. They pleaded guilty to breaching the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, and were fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £195,000.
HSE inspector Christine Mellor said; “Exposure to hand-arm vibration is a well-known risk which Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Ltd failed to adequately control. The company failed to heed warnings. Early health surveillance detected ill health but still this was not acted upon to prevent on-going exposure... This is a particularly serious case because of the extent and duration of failures. The breaches were repeated over several years and this resulted in persistent poor compliance.”
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