Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a group of disorders that can arise from using hand-held power tools and hand-guided equipment.
Typical tasks that may cause the syndrome include using machines such as jack hammers, drills, chainsaws and grinders in a range of industrial applications, from metal working to forestry and automotive repair.
Whether or not people develop this syndrome depends on how often they carry out the relevant task; the magnitude of the vibration; and the individual’s susceptibility.
Those individuals who develop HAVS may not be able to work for extended periods, causing considerable disruption in the workplace. And while claims for hand-arm syndrome have stabilised over the past 10 years, the associated costs of claims are on the increase – all of which means organisations need to manage their risks relating to HAVS carefully.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼How can organisations manage these risks?
To start with, employers should carry out a risk assessment for all tasks involving the use of vibration tools. This should identify vibration hazards and tasks, people at risk, equipment used, exposure times and vibration magnitude. It should also identify existing control measures and categorise risk in terms of the limits set out in the 2005 regulations, ie exposure action values (EAVs) and exposure limit values (ELVs).
To carry out such assessments, we recommend using a third-party specialist if the skills are not available in-house. Specialists can establish accurate vibration measurements and give advice on suitable, practical control measures.
Typical control measures may include:
- Eliminating and substituting – eg using remote or automated tools, or welding instead of riveting.
- Reducing transmission to hands by using low vibration tools or mounting work pieces.
- Improving ergonomics through better grip design and lighter tools.
- Maintenance, such as replacing worn parts and maintaining anti-vibration devices.
- Sharpening tools to improve efficiency and reduce exposure time.
- Reducing exposure through rest breaks and job rotation.
Managers should share information on managing HAVS risks and train staff appropriately. They should also carry out checks to make sure that control measures are being used and understood.
- Put a system of regular health surveillance and screening in place – both for new employees and those at risk, including those with HAVS, those who are susceptible to it, and those exposed at levels above those stipulated by the 2005 regulations.
- Create a system of preventative maintenance, which ensures the efficiency and reliability of tools, and demonstrates that reasonable steps have been taken to maintain safe plant and ensure a safe system of work.
- Authorise and train employees exposed to HAVS, and monitor them to check they are able to perform their tasks. Knowledge of control measures should be checked and subject to continual monitoring.
- Incorporate reducing their HAVS exposure in their business planning.
- Embrace technical advances in terms of safe equipment and HAVS monitoring systems.
Ultimately, a robust and documented safe system of working demonstrates that an operator’s daily personal vibration dose was within safe levels. It is important to note that the EAV is not considered a safe level or a benchmark for achievement.
Employers need to ensure that they comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. These regulations set maximum limits for vibration levels, as well as detailing requirements for risk assessments, health surveillance and training.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations also contain important requirements regarding the suitability and selection of work equipment.
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