How to Manage Hand Arm Vibration (HAVS)

September 2, 2019

 

One observation I frequently hear from safety professionals is confusion by both employees and employers about Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).  Managing vibration at work is usually put on the ‘too complicated’ pile.  The reality is that if you have identified vibration in your risk assessments then you need to act – here’s how. 

 

What does the Law say about Vibration? 

The legal instrument used to control the way vibration is managed in the workplace is the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.  These sit under the main Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.  In simple terms these regulations require that employers assess and control the risk of vibration and ensure their staff have the requisite information, training and supervision. 

 

Does it apply to me? 

Is HAVS a risk in your organisation?  Generally speaking if you are using hand held powered equipment then it is a risk.  This will more significant if they are used regularly and frequently.  Examples of equipment that expose workers to vibration include: 

  • Lawn mowers 

  • Hand held power tools 

  • Breakers (e.g. Kangoo’s) 

  • Chainsaws 

 

Why should I manage vibration? 

Apart from the legal duty, vibration can result in severe ill-health effects to those exposed to it.  Ultimately, if not managed properly it can cause lasting effects and result in an employee no longer being able to work.  The sorts of symptoms and effects that occur include: 

  • Pins and needles 

  • Loss of feeling in fingers 

  • Weakness, loss of dexterity and grip strength 

  • Blanching of the fingers.  In other words, they go white which is why the term HAVS is sometimes referred to as ‘white finger’

  • Pain and discomfort when blanching returns to normal 

  • Pain is exacerbated in wet and cold weather 

 

The risk is present when employees are regularly and frequently exposed to vibration at work.  Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome itself can be particularly unpleasant and is the main name given to the ill-health effects caused by vibration. However, there are other effects that vibration can cause including carpel tunnel. It is also worth pointing out that different people will react in different ways.  The length of exposure before ill health is caused will also vary from person to person. 

 

Ultimately, if a worker is dependent on the use of their hands for their livelihood then the outcome of HAVS can be very severe and prevent them from working. 

 

  1. You need to firstly identify the sources of vibration.  List the items and their model numbers where possible. 

  2. Visit the manufacturer’s website or their instruction books supplied with the equipment and identify the vibration magnitude (this will be shown in m/s2.  E.g. 2.5m/s2). 

  3. Identify who is exposed to vibration and how long they use the items of equipment. 

  4. Use the HSE Vibration Exposure Calculator.  This is an excel spreadsheet which will show you if you are exceeding any of the vibration levels that require you to take specific action. (Download the form here - no details required)

 

 

Vibration Exposure Monitoring

If you have identified that vibration is a risk then you will need to carry out some exposure monitoring.  This is straight forward and can be achieved by doing the following: 

 

  1. Identify the sources of vibration in organisation.  Make a list of all the equipment and their model numbers.  (e.g. DeWalt, 28mm HEX Braker) 

  2. Look in the manufacturer’s instructions and find the vibration magnitude.  This will be shown in m/s2.  (e.g. the DeWalt tool above can be found online and is 6.8m/s2). 

  3. Record how long employees use the various items of equipment per day. 

Armed with this information you can input the tools into the HSE Vibration Exposure Calculator and determine the levels of exposure.  

 

How do I manage vibration? 

No that you know the levels of exposure by groups of employees or individuals you need to control the risk.  With any risks you have a legal duty to lower them as far as is reasonably practicable.  In addition, the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 imposes 2 exposure levels that require you take specific action.  These are: 

 

  • Exposure Action Value (EAV) – currently 2.5m/s2, you must lower exposure as far as is reasonably practicable if the EAV is exceeded. 

  • Exposure Limit Value (ELV) – currently 5m/s2, you must never exceed this limit during the working day. 

 

Note: The values shown are given as a time weighted average over an 8 hour period. The tool given in the example has a vibration magnitude of 6.8m/s2 over an 8 hour period.  Therefore we could not use this tool continually for an 8 hour period as we will have exceeded the ELV.   

 

You could use it for less than 8 hours and be within the limits and the HSE Vibration Exposure Calculator will show you how much use will exceed the action levels so that you can manage it accordingly. 

 

Ways you may put in place controls such as: 

  • Amend processes to eliminate or lower the exposure to vibration 

  • Select equipment with vibration magnitude in mind.  Some manufacturers are better than others at controlling vibration 

  • Keep equipment maintained.  The vibration magnitude may increase with poorly maintained equipment 

  • Arrange work schedules to reduce exposures below the ELV 

  • Design ergonomic workstations so that position and posture are suitable for the use of the equipment 

  • Give employees equipment and welfare facilities that help them to stay dry and warm.  Good blood flow is helpful against vibration.  

 

You’ve lowered the risk as far is reasonably practicable – Now What? 

You are required to provide information, instruction and training to those exposed to vibration.  They should understand at least he following items: 

 

  • The health effects from HAVs 

  • Sources of HAVs and the controls in place to protect them 

  • Information about the EAV and ELV and how it affects them 

  • Knowledge on how to reduce exposure 

  • How to spot the symptoms associated with HAVs 

  • Any health surveillance in place 

  • Any other steps you have taken to lower the risk 

  • Training on how to use/maintain equipment to reduce vibration risk. 

 

Last but not least – Health Surveillance 

If you employees are exposed to the EAV or above then you will want to consider some sort of monitoring to identify any symptoms so that action can be taken.  It will prevent further ill health being caused. 

 

If you provide health surveillance be sure to employ competent people to help you and that if HAVS or Carpel Tunnel Syndrome are diagnosed then it is reportable under RIDDOR. 

 

Summary  

Have a go at using the calculator.  You may be surprised by the levels of vibration some of your equipment produces.  Once you understand this monitor your workforce to see what levels of exposure exist so that you can control the risks. 

 

If you need any assistance with controlling vibration at work please get in touch with Borne Safety. 

 

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