RECENT reports show the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are increasingly investigating the issue of hand-arm vibration with a number of recent prosecutions by the HSE.
Note: Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints), and it is important for employers to keep up to date and ensure they are compliant.
Hand-arm vibration is reverberations transmitted into workers’ hands and arms. This can come from use of hand-held power tools (such as grinders), hand-guided equipment or by holding materials being worked by hand-fed machines.
Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can lead to two forms of permanent ill health known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Over two million workers are at risk from HAVS, which with proper controls, is entirely preventable.
Symptoms and effects of HAVS include:
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers resulting in an inability to do fine work or everyday tasks (for example, fastening buttons)
- Loss of strength in the hands which might affect the ability to do work to a safe standard
- Fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery, reducing ability to work in cold or damp conditions
- Symptoms and effects of CTS can also occur and include tingling, numbness, pain and weakness in the hand which can interfere with work and everyday tasks and affect the ability to accomplish work safely
Symptoms of both may come and go, but with continued exposure to vibration they may become prolonged or permanent and cause pain, distress and sleep disturbance. This can happen after only a few months of exposure, but in most cases it will happen over a few years.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to make sure risks from vibration are controlled. The Act also requires employers to provide information, instruction and training to employees on the risk and the actions being taken to control risk and provide suitable health surveillance.
The Vibration Regulations include an exposure action value (EAV) and an exposure limit value (ELV) based on a combination of the vibration at the grip point(s) on the equipment or work piece and the time spent gripping it.
The exposure action and limit values are a daily EAV of 2.5 m/s A(8) that represents a clear risk requiring management; and a daily ELV of 5 m/s A(8) representing a high risk above, which employees should not be exposed.
Users of the types of equipment listed below and similar equipment will often be exposed above the EAV:
- Chainsaws, impact drills and grinders (all types and sizes, eg angle, die, straight, vertical etc)
- Hand-fed equipment e.g pedestal linishers, grinders, mops
- Scaling hammers, this includes needle scalers
- Pedestrian-controlled equipment including mowers, floor saws, floor polishers
- Powered hammers for chipping,
demolition, road breaking etc
- Sanders and polishers
- Hand-held saws for concrete, metal, ground clearance etc
Damaged and very old models of equipment may be hazardous even when used for very short periods. Most types of hand-held, hand-guided or hand-fed-powered equipment can cause ill health from vibration if used incorrectly.
Employers can reduce vibration exposure by reducing the vibration transmitted to the hand and the time spent holding vibrating equipment or work pieces.
Control measures include looking for ways of working that reduce the need to hold vibrating equipment. A few examples to consider are to question the need for vibration emissions when purchasing or hiring equipment.
Employers can promote maintaining equipment in accordance with its manufacturer’s instructions, or plan work schedules to minimise vibration exposures and make exposures below the ELV.
Employers could also promote work organisation and design workstations to avoid uncomfortable postures. Employees could also enquire the need for high-manual effort to grip, push or pull equipment – helping employees maintain good blood circulation by providing clothing to help them keep warm and dry.
Employers must provide health surveillance when exposures are at or above the EAV and in other circumstances where there is risk, for example, after diagnosis of HAVS and exposure continues, but below the EAV.
Health Surveillance for HAVS should be carried out by properly trained and competent Occupational Health professionals, who will advise the employer on new cases of HAVS.
Deborah Williams CMIOSH RMaPS is Principal Safety Consultant at Compass Ltd. Deborah specialises in assisting private sector organisations within the construction, waste management and extractive industries.
You can contact her on – 01257 482256 or via email: [email protected]