Hand Arm Vibration Risk Assessments
In 2019, Dacorum Borough Council was fined £100,000 after seven workers developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. The investigation found that the council had failed to identify risks associated with the use of certain power tools and excessive use had resulted in the condition.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is a very real threat to the wellbeing of workers in fields such as construction and the automotive industry. In this post, we will explain what Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is, how to do a HAVS risk assessment and how to safeguard workers against vibrations.
What Is HAVS?
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, or HAVS, is a condition where repeated or constant exposure to vibrations through the use of tools or equipment begins to affect a person’s hands and arms. The symptoms of HAVS can be highly detrimental to a person’s daily function, as well as impacting their future ability to work.
HAVS is typically caused by the use of vibrating tools and machinery and once HAVS has impacted someone’s hands and arms, it is unclear whether the effects can ever be reversed.
Symptoms of HAVS
If a proper HAVS risk assessment is not undertaken or sufficiently implemented, workers may develop HAVS. They may experience the following symptoms:
- Numbness, pins and needles or a tingling sensation in the hands and fingers
- Vibration white finger – also known as blanched fingers or Raynaud’s phenomenon – where the fingers lose colour due to decreased blood flow
- Aches and pains in the arms and fingers
- Reduced strength
- Weakened grip strength
- Loss of fine motor skills
For some people, these symptoms may evolve after a few months of exposure, but for others it may take years, When symptoms do appear, continued exposure can exacerbate the condition.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 sets out the formula for calculating the maximum level of vibration exposure for both hand-arm and whole body vibration. This document also discusses the importance of hand arm vibration risk assessments, which we will discuss in more detail below.
For hand-arm vibration, the limit value is 5 m/s2 A(8). A HAVS risk assessment should identify any areas where workers may approach or breach that limit, and immediate action should be taken to rectify this.
Creating a HAVS Risk Assessment
It is vital to ensure that, when undertaking a task or project which requires the use of tools and machinery, all best practices have been met. When carrying out a hand arm vibration risk assessment, you must consider:
- Where there is or could be exposure to hand arm vibration, and what the magnitude, type and duration of that exposure would be.
- Who might be affected by this exposure, and which employees (if any) may require health surveillance or be at risk of being more affected..
- Using the suitable formula to provide an estimate of the level of exposure to vibrations.
- Laying out the employer’s legal responsibilities to safeguard against vibrations and how they can meet them.
The risk assessment must be reviewed frequently, particularly if there is a significant change to the work or if a worker highlights a potential risk. The employer should also record what measures have been or will be taken to ensure a safe workplace.
Reducing Risk of HAVS
There are many ways to reduce hand arm vibration exposure, such as:
- Using the correct, designated tool for each job.
- Ensuring all equipment is in good working order, and any maintenance or services have been completed prior to use.
- Employing appropriate anti-vibration mounts and other auxiliary products to absorb shock and vibrations.
- Supplying relevant PPE and equipment to protect employees from both vibrations and damp or cold conditions, which can exacerbate HAVS.
- Encouraging those working with vibrating equipment to keep their hands warm and dry, particularly if they are working in poor weather or marine conditions.
- Minimising exposure time by regularly taking breaks or working with other, non-vibrating equipment.
- Ensuring all workers are informed about the risk of HAVS and how to protect themselves effectively.
A HAVS risk assessment is vital to protect your employees from Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. To learn more about using rubber for effective anti-vibration and the importance of controlling vibrations in construction, please see our blog.