Updated information on hand-arm vibration
Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health, including painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints. The condition is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent.
The pocket card, INDG296 Hand-arm Vibration. A Guide for Employees, is aimed at workers who regularly use hand-held powered equipment.
- What hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is
- The symptoms of HAVS
- How to reduce the risks of developing the disease.
The card points out that the use of hand-held powered work equipment and work pieces can cause both HAVS and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder that may involve pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in parts of the hand and can be caused by, among other things, exposure to vibration.
The HSE warns that HAVS:
- Affects the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm
- Can become severely disabling if ignored
- Includes vibration white finger, which can cause severe pain in the affected fingers.
According to the HSE, nearly 2 million people in the UK are at risk of HAVs.
Control of Vibration at Work Regulations
By law an employer must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration. This will protect employees from risks to their health.
Where the risks are low, the actions needed, will be simple and inexpensive. If the risks are high, use a prioritised action plan to control exposure.
Exposure Action Values (EAV) and Exposure Limit Values (ELV)
The EAV for hand-arm vibration is a daily exposure of 2.5 m/s2 (A)8. The value is averaged over an 8-hour exposure period. If this is exceeded you are required to take action to control exposure.
The ELV is the maximum level of exposure permitted by the regulations and is a daily exposure of 5 m/s² A(8). Exposure levels must be reduced below this level.
- Key Action Steps
- Undertake a risk assessment to identify if the EAV or ELV are exceeded
- Consider measures required to reduce the risks from Hand-Arm Vibration
- Decide upon any health surveillance
- Implement and maintain a stringent policy for purchasing new power tools
The purpose of the assessment is to determine whether or not the EAV or ELV are exceeded. If so, determine what needs to be done to reduce the risks.
Consider the degree of risk in your assessment including factors such as amount of vibration, how long the tools are used for, the working posture and how cold it is.
- Make a list of equipment or activities that may expose employees to vibration
- Collect information about the equipment on vibration risks (from manufacturers)
- check with the manufacturer that the vibration emission declared in the instruction manual is representative of your normal use of the equipment
- Identify the employees who use the equipment
- Note for how long the employees are actually in contact with the machinery when vibrating. (this “trigger time” may only be a few minutes in several hours of working time)
- Consider other problems such as weight and awkward postures.
When the risks have been identified, they can then be reduced by measures such as:
- Using alternative work methods
- Replacing old equipment with new
- Improving the maintenance on the equipment
- Providing clothing to keep employees warm and dry (this helps to improve blood supply to the hands)
- Some tools might be modified by adding anti-vibration handles or plastic vibration reducing materials on the handles
- Reducing number of tasks where vibrating tools need to be used
- Improving quality standards and eliminating the need for excess material to be removed by grinding etc.
- Reducing exposure times by job sharing or job rotation
Training and Information
Employees should be provided with information on:
- The effects of hand-arm vibration
- Sources of hand-arm vibration
- The findings of the risk assessment
- The symptoms and how to report them
- Ways of reducing the risks