Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a relatively modern phenomenon that can result from the gripping of power tools that transmit vibration. The issue gained prominence in the 1990’s following large numbers of civil claims being made by ex-miners and others from heavy industry alleging they were suffering the effects of Vibration White Finger (VWF) – one of the more severe outcomes of prolonged exposure to vibration.
In 2005 specific new legislation was introduced to control employee exposure to vibration. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 sets out exposure action and limit values for employers to respond to (in a similar way to the thresholds stipulated for noise control).
The featured criminal case below details a fairly typical situation where a council was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £28,000 costs for failing to protect its employees from damaging exposure to vibration.
The case relates to seven employees who worked for the council’s Grounds Maintenance and Street Care team looking after public spaces.
According to figures from the Judicial College, depending on the extent of their injuries, the employees could anticipate a compensation payment ranging from £2,390 to £30,630.
The case demonstrates that there can be some very costly repercussions for public authorities who fail to adequately manage the risks.
Firstly it’s important to understand that exposure to the vibration usually has to be regular and prolonged to cause injury, so those most at risk are often people who use vibrating hand tools as a significant part of their work. This could include grounds maintenance workers and arborists using chainsaws, mowers, brush cutters and strimmer’s and employees involved in highways and property maintenance using equipment such as concrete breakers / road breakers, cut-off saws, hammer drills and hand-held grinders etc.
Current guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that you may have people at risk if they use:
The prolonged transmission of vibration energy through the hands can damage the vascular system restricting the blood supply to the fingers as well as causing damage to the nerves and joints of the hands and wrists.
The symptoms include any combination of:
The consequences can include pain, disruption to sleep, and loss of dexterity impacting on ability to carry out fine motor skills which could adversely affect a person’s ability to work and function normally outside of work.
Once symptoms are detected some damage has already been done and this is usually permanent, but with early intervention it is possible to prevent further deterioration and disability.
Note: Some people may be more at risk from the effects of HAVS if they suffer with blood circulatory diseases such as Raynaud’s Disease or those with a history of heavy smoking.
The starting point is to identify if there are members of your workforce who are exposed to vibration and assess if they are likely to receive a significant dose in terms of duration and frequency of use, along with the magnitude / amount of energy emitted from the equipment. Your Occupational Health and Safety team should be able to assist with this and there are a number of tools available on the HSE website to help calculate the likely exposures.
If the results of the assessment show that employees are likely to be exposed above the:
The first control step is to consider if the risk can be eliminated e.g. by undertaking the work using alternative methods or equipment that does not require people to hold onto the source of vibration. However, if this is not possible, you should assess whether the risk can be reduced by using equipment with low vibration emissions and good ergonomic design.
Following the above you can then consider implementing some of the other (less effective) controls which may include:
Management will then need to put systems into place to monitor the effectiveness of their control strategies which may involve:
HAVS symptoms can take many years to emerge and they can lead to Employers’ Liability claims arriving long after exposure, so prudent organisations should try to maintain thorough records of:
Please Note: This article only addresses the risks associated with vibration transmitted through the hands. For further information on Whole Body vibration please refer to the following page of the HSE website.
Risk Management Partners is well-placed to assist authorities with managing their health and safety risks. Support can be provided in the following ways: