In this article the risk management specialists at WTS consider the processes required to control hand arm vibration risk in the workplace to ensure workers are protected from injury and regulatory compliance is achieved and maintained.
The article considers the current legal position for employers with regard to vibration, what activities create increased risk for workers, and which industries are more likely to be affected. It then looks at the health consequences of poorly managed vibration activities, and concludes with steps that both employers and workers can take to reduce the risks from vibration.
What is hand arm vibration syndrome?
In July 2019, the UK regulations concerning the control of Vibration at Work, first written in 2005, were updated. Hand arm vibration syndrome or HAVS used to be known as “vibration white finger”. It is a medical condition which is caused by exposure to vibration in a work setting. The damage caused by vibration is preventable by employers, but once the damage has been done, it cannot be reversed.
What causes hand arm vibration syndrome?
HAVS can damage nerves, blood vessels and joints in your hand, arm or wrist. In most cases, the culprit is the routine use of hand tools such as disc cutters, hammer drills, grinders, brush cutters, needle guns and other similar pieces of equipment.
The risk of developing problems in your arm, hand or wrist are far greater for employees whose job it is to use:
- Hammer action tools for 15 minutes every working day or more.
- Rotary and other tools for more than around 60 minutes a day.
What industries are more affected by hand arm vibration?
Given the nature of the tools which can cause vibration damage to workers, there are some industries which are more affected than others. These include:
- All types of construction and facilities management jobs.
- Metal foundries and processing.
- Quarrying and mining.
- Manufacturing of vehicles and motor repair or mechanics.
How can you reduce the risk of hand arm vibration?
Employers have the legal responsibility to protect their workers against hand arm vibration syndrome and the related condition of carpal tunnel syndrome under Health and Safety legislation.
The Health and Safety Executive sets the daily exposure limit for any employee working on a single day at 5m/s2
The first step to perform a hand arm vibration risk assessment. This would involve looking at exposure levels for members of staff to identify the activity causing the exposure and trying to establish whether it can be done in a different way, or using machines and tools which don’t cause such high levels of vibration. If this isn’t possible, then look at these options instead:
- Choose tools designed to produce a lower level of vibration.
- Ensure that employees are using the right tool for each task to ensure the job is completed more quickly and exposure is kept to a minimum.
- Check tools regularly to ensure they are maintained correctly. Any faults or wear which could cause increased vibration should be addressed immediately.
- Any tools for cutting should be kept sharp to make sure they are working efficiently.
- Rearranging the working processes in order to reduce the amount of time tools are used in one period, by doing other jobs in between.
- Train staff to hold and manipulate tools properly to avoid problems caused by forcing or “over-gripping”.
- Keeping tools stored in a way which ensures that they do not have very cold handles when someone starts using them.
How employees can help reduce their own vibration risk
Employees can play their part too. Improving blood circulation can lessen the risks of exposure to vibration and employers should encourage workers to:
- Stay warm and dry, which might require wearing gloves, hats, waterproofs and even heating pads depending on the weather conditions. Employers may choose to provide these items to members of staff to ensure that they are worn.
- Stop smoking altogether or cut down on smoking as this can reduce blood flow. Employers may offer to direct their staff to smoking cessation services, either through the NHS or privately funded schemes.
- Encouraging the massaging or exercising of fingers and hands during breaks from work.
Do you need a vibration risk assessment?
In the UK employers should also conduct an overall vibration risk assessment to identify exposure levels across their business operations. This will help identify whether current operations are within the limits set out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), identify areas for improvement, and so limit the potential for hand arm vibration syndrome.
Exposure to vibration is measured using a device called an accelerometer. Results are expressed in acceleration in meters per second. The HSE sets the daily exposure limit value (ELV) for any employee working on a single day at 5m/s2. However, if measurements come out at the lower exposure action value (EAV) of 2.5 m/s2, then action should be taken by employers to try to reduce exposure for their employees to an even lower level.
As well as taking steps in-house to minimise risk and alter the processes of the working day, it can often be better to get the experts in. An external consultancy who works exclusively with workplace risk will be able to quickly identify both the risks and steps which you could take to reduce vibration exposure for your employees.
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Contact us today to learn how our safety experts can help you improve your safety processes, maintain regulatory compliance and so keep people safe.
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