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HAV's Information & Regulations

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Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a widespread industrial disease affecting millions of workers worldwide.

HAVS is an Occupational Disease that is preventable, but once the damage has been done it is permanent. It is a disabling disease which can affect the central nervous system. 5 million people are currently exposed of which 2 million people are at risk. This does not include cases that have already been diagnosed.

It is caused by exposure to vibration (especially from vibrating hand-held tools) and therefore is a particular problem to industry.

Effect of HAVS

HAVS is made up by a number of related conditions, which can effect the circulation, sensory and motor nerves and cause muscular-skeletal problems.

Vibration White Finger (VWF)

This is one of the most common conditions among operators of hand-held tools. The most obvious effect of VWF is where the fingers turn white during an attack. Sufferers may also lose manual dexterity and grip strength.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This is caused by a compression of the median nerve due to swelling in the carpal tunnel (located at the joint between the wrist and the hand).

Symptoms include:
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Tingling in the first and second and side of the middle finger. A pins and needles sensation is created, causing weak grip and diminished strength in the hand.

These conditions may appear after only a few months on the job, or may not appear until after twenty or thirty years. It is somewhat unclear why the development of these conditions takes longer with some people. Temporary tingling (called transient) or numbness during or soon after the use of a vibrating hand tool, which many people complain of, is not considered to be HAVS. Tingling and numbness in the fingers lasting more than an hour after finishing work may indicate early stages of HAVS and should be treated seriously.

It is not clear how vibration causes HAVS, but it is probably due to slight but repeated injury to the small nerves and blood vessels in the fingers. Over time these may gradually lose some of their function and cause symptoms. Conditions are aggravated when exposed to cold or wet weather.

You are at risk if you regularly use hand-held or hand guided power tools and machines such as:

  • Concrete breakers
  • Sanders, grinders, disc cutters
  • Hammer drills
  • Chipping hammers
  • Chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers
  • Powered mowers
  • Scabblers or needle guns

You are also at risk if you hold work pieces, which vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders.

What are the physical effects of HAVS?

What are the early signs and symptoms to look out for?

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers (which can cause sleep disturbance).
  • Not being able to feel things with your fingers.
  • Loss of strength in your hands (you may be less able to pick up or hold heavy objects).
  • In the cold and wet, the tips of your fingers going white then red and being painful on recovery (vibration white finger).

If you continue to use high-vibration tools these symptoms will probably get worse, for example:

  • The numbness in your hands could become permanent and you won’t be able to feel things at all.
  • You will have difficulty picking up small objects such as screws or nails.
  • The vibration white finger could happen more frequently and affect more of your fingers.

Legislation Vibration Act

How has The Control of Vibration at Work Act 2005 affected the management of vibration in the workplace?

In many cases it is quite simple, if an organisation allows employees to carry out tasks using vibratory equipment there are certain steps that need to be taken to ensure employee welfare, and guarantee that certain guidelines are followed as set out in The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

There are two values that need to be understood. A risk assessment can identify hazards but an action plan has to be implemented to ensure that the assessment is managed in accordance with legislation, which proves to be an effective method of control.

Legislation Vibration Levels

Try and tackle the problem at the source. Look at the work process and see if any modifications can be made or engineered out. Consider the condition of the tool, is it old, has it been maintained on a regular basis (non maintained tools have been proven to emit a far higher vibration signature than that of frequently repaired tools).

Consumable items will also affect the level of vibration. Do not use worn or old consumables such as grinding disks. Try and reduce the ALV wherever possible. Introduce a health monitoring system for individuals exposed to vibration above the ALV.

Legislation Exposure Limit

Please could you explain what Exposure Limit Value and Exposure Action Value means?

The Exposure Limit Value of 5m/s², which is the maximum amount of vibration an employee may be exposed to in a day. The Exposure Action Value of 2.5m/s², is the exposure to vibration above which precautionary action needs to be taken to reduce exposure.

Legislation Interesting Statistics

  • Government estimates are that over 1 million UK workers are currently exposed to vibration over the Health and Safety executive action limit of 2.5m/s².
  • There are over 300,000 reported symptoms of HAVS.
  • HAVS is the most common disease reported under the Reporting of Injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrence, regulations (RIDDOR).
  • 1 in 10 people who work regularly with vibrating tools will develop HAVS.
  • HSE data reveals 3000 new HAVS claims notified each year.

Some of the above information has been taken from the Health and Safety Executive web page. Please click the link below for further details and legislation.