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PPE FAQ: hand arm vibration (HAVS)

WHAT IS HAND ARM VIBRATION (HAVS)?

Vibration transmitted from work processes into workers’ hands and arms.

It can be caused by operating hand-held power tools and / or by holding materials being processed by machines such as pedestal grinders.

Regular and frequent exposure to high levels of vibration can lead to permanent injury. It is most likely when contact with vibrating tools etc is a regular part of occupation.

Occasional exposure is unlikely to cause injury. Although persons’ with a condition called ‘Raynaud’s Disease’ should avoid exposure.

WHAT INJURIES CAN HAVS CAUSE?

• Loss of sense of touch

• Severe pain and numbness

• Loss of grip strength

• Pins and needles

• Painful wrist – carpal tunnel syndrome

Regular exposure to vibration can cause a range of permanent injuries which are known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).

Blood circulatory system – vibration white finger (VWF).

Sensory nerves.

Muscles.

Bones.

Joints.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

VWF When the hands or body gets cold. The first sign is often an occasional attack when fingertips become white.

Continuing to work with vibrating tools can increase the affected area.

The fingers become numb and you may get ‘pins and needles’. It can end in whiteness in fingers leading to deep red flush which is often painful.

Sensory nerve damage – Damage to nerves will mean that senses of touch and temperature are reduced. You can experience permanent numbness or tingling in fingers.

Damage to muscles, bones and joints – Loss of strength in hands and pain in wrists and arms.

HOW WILL THE SYMPTOMS AFFECT WHAT I CAN DO?

You may not be able to: –

o Continue working with vibrating equipment.

o Work in wet or cold conditions.

o Do any work that requires finger manipulation – such as handling screws or nails.

It may affect your leisure and family activities: –

o Fishing

o Swimming

o Golf

o Gardening.

o DIY.

o Watching sports.

o Fastening buttons or sorting coins.

o Washing the car

WHAT CAUSES HAVS?

Risk of permanent damage depends on several things.

 How high the vibration levels are.

 How long you use the equipment.

 How awkward it is for you to use.

 How tightly you havs to grip the equipment.

 How cold or wet you get when using the equipment.

A simple rule – you may be at risk if you get tingling or numbness during or immediately after use of a vibrating tool or equipment.

DOES IT AFFECT MANY?

The ‘Health and Safety Executive’ (HSE) estimates that there are around 36,000 people with an advanced stage of vibration white finger VWF, which is the most well known form of HAVS.

Hundreds of new cases of VWF are assessed each year.

VWF is also one of the most common reasons for occupational ill health claims against employers.

WHAT TOOLS CAUSE INJURY?

• Chainsaws

• Concrete breakers – jack hammers

• Hammer drills

• Hand held grinders

• Power hammers and chisels

• Hand held sanders

• Nut runners

• Pedestal grinders

• Powered lawn mowers

• Riveting hammers and bolsters

• Strimmers and brush cutters

CAN MANUFACTURERS HELP?

They are generally trying to improve the vibration from equipment – it is a legal requirement.

They are to; –

• Design and construct equipment which will cause the minimum risk of vibration injury.

• Provide warnings of any residual risk.

• Provide information on vibration levels.

• Provide instructions on how to use the equipment to avoid risks from vibrations.

WHAT THE LAW REQUIRES

 Assess the risks to health of your employees and plan the controls. Risk Assessment process.

 Manage the risk.

 Provide suitable equipment for the employer to use.

 Maintain equipment properly.

 Give employees information and training on health risks and safe use of equipment.

 Provide health surveillance for employees where risks cannot be completely eliminated.

 Provide reports to enforcing authorities on cases of HAVS.

 Consult safety representatives of proposals to deal with vibration hazards.

HOW QUICKLY CAN THESE TOOLS CAUSE HEALTH PROBLEMS?

There is no real easy answer.

Various factors will and can include;-

 Level of vibration.

 How long the exposure.

Persons most likely to be harmed by vibrations are: –

 Regular users of high vibration tools and equipment.

For some individuals, symptoms may appear after a few months of exposure, but for others it may take years.

HOW DO WE KNOW IF YOU ARE AT RISK?

INFORMATION – Supplied by equipment manufacturers.

SUPERVISION – To observe how hand-held power tools are used.

In particular; –

Using hammer action equipment for more than half an hour each day.

Using rotary action equipment for more than two hours each day.

 Havs your fingers gone white on exposure to cold?

 Havs you had any tingling or numbness in your fingers after using vibrating equipment?

 Are you experiencing any problems with muscles or joints in your hands and / or arms?

 Do you havs difficulty picking up small objects such as nails and screws?

If the answer is “YES” to any or all questions, assume that there is a risk from HAVS.

You should seek advice from a Doctor and take action to reduce exposure.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

THERE ARE MANY AND VARIOUS IDEAS, WHICH COST LITTLE.

Look for alternative was of working which eliminate the vibrating equipment all together.

Make sure you use the most appropriate equipment for the job in hand – inappropriate equipment may take longer to do the job or vibrate more.

Minimise the time individuals use the equipment – job rotation.

Break up periods of continuous equipment use by individuals.

Design the job so that poor posture (that causes strain on hands & arms) is avoided.

Maintain tools to manufacturer’s specifications to avoid worsening vibrations.

Replace vibration mounts before they are worn out.

Ensure rotating parts are checked for balance and replace as necessary.

Keep tools sharp.

Get advice from trade associations on best practice.

Get advice from equipment manufactures on safe use of equipment.

Mechanise or automate the works or change the way of working.

Ask manufacturers to add anti-vibration mounts to isolate the user from the vibration source.

Provide tool support to take the weight of the equipment (i.e. tensioners or balancers) allowing operators to reduce grip and feed force.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Reduce time exposure.

Wear dry gloves. Keep hand warm, stop smoking.

Exercise you fingers.

Inform your supervisor of symptoms.

Report damage equipment.

Alter airflow on equipment so it does not blow across hands.

Change work procedures.

INFORMATION AND TRAINING

Employees need to know about the hazards and what is required to reduce risks.

Such as: –

Potential source of HAVS.

Health effects of HAVS.

Risk factors – high levels of vibration / daily length / regularity of exposure.

How to recognise and report signs of injury.

Ways to minimise risk – including changes to work practices – correct selection, use and maintenance of equipment.

How to use tools to reduce grip force and strain etc.

Maintenance of good blood circulation at work by keeping warm, exercising fingers and NOT smoking.

There is little evidence to indicate that recovery from VWF occurs when exposure to vibration stops. Reports havs indicated that the recovery is slight and very slow.

The severity of VWF has been classified into seven arbitrary clinical stages and also in terms of related occupational conditions.

Condition of digit

Work and social interference

No blanching of fingers.Intermittent tingling. Intermittent numbness.Blanching of one or more fingertips with or without tingling and numbness.Blanching of one or more fingers with numbness – usually confined to winter. Extensive blanching; frequent attacks in summer as well as winter. 

Extensive blanching of fingers: frequent episodes summer and winter.

 No complaints.No interference with activities.No interference with activities.No interference with activities.  Slight interference with home and social activities; no interference with work.Definite interference at work, at home and with social activities: restriction of hobbies.

Occupation changed to avoid further vibration exposures due to severity of signs and symptoms.

Information by kind permission of Grove Services (UK) Ltd

About Grove Services

Grove Services (UK) Limited are an independent service company providing occupational health and safety services.

Operated and staffed with Chartered Safety & Health Practitioners, Grove Services offer various health and safety services; whether you are looking for advice, guidance and information for compliance or require safety training specific to your business needs. We help businesses across the UK with all aspects of occupational health and safety – from audits, spot checks and full inspections through to identification of hazards, reporting of incidents and help with the selection of protective equipment.

Grove Services archive of useful occupational health and safety templates, manuals, etc for you to download.

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