Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is the term used to describe the array of symptoms that results from exposure to hand-transmitted vibration.
The vascular component is the very specific colour changes that occur in the fingers on cold exposure, known as Raynaud’s phenomenon and previously referred to as Vibration White Finger. The name of the sensorineural component is perfectly descriptive – it is damage to the nerves that causes sensory symptoms of tingling and/or numbness.
A wide range of tools can be associated with vibration exposure. The common feature is that they all provide a source of vibrational energy, which is what causes the tissue damage. The more energy transmitted to the operator’s hands and fingers, the greater the tissue damage can be.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 fall under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and cover hand arm vibration as well as whole body vibration. These regulations place a number of obligations on employers. Arguably, the most important of those is to reduce individual exposure so far as is reasonably practicable.
How do you assess the risk?
Risk assessment should identify who is exposed undertaking what type of activity with what type of tool and for how long (trigger times). Having good data on exposure levels and exposure times is important; manufacturers have a duty to provide vibration levels but bear in mind that these may not reflect how the tools are used in a particular application.
Additional workplace monitoring may therefore be necessary. Trigger times should also be estimated, although it is generally better to devote resources to reducing the risk than establishing elaborate tool-timing regimes. The HSE ‘points system’ is straightforward way of estimating vibration exposure.
How do you control the risk?
Can such equipment be avoided (remote operations etc.)? Careful job planning can often identify ways to avoid or reduce use of vibrating tool use.
Effective purchasing, involving technical expertise should be able to identify whether lower vibration tools are available. Cheaper ‘DIY-type’ tools are often the worst. Remember there is no effective PPE to reduce vibration levels.
Tools often deteriorate with time and wear and vibration characteristics change; maintenance is therefore an important consideration within a risk control strategy.
Specialist techniques which involve assessing the vibration frequency spectrum can be a diagnostic measure to help identify worn components which increase the overall vibration levels.
Effective control should also consider the individual and health surveillance should be a part of the risk management strategy. Methods are available to assess the early stages of the condition before it gets too bad.
If you have an enquiry relating to Hand Arm Vibration, please contact us via www.standerwicksafety.co.uk or on 0800 0836458