What is Hand-arm Vibration?

What is Hand-Arm Vibration?

Hand-arm vibration affects workers who use hand-held vibrating equipment as part of their work activity, but what is it?

Employers and their workers who use hand held vibrating equipment as part of their work activity need to know about hand arm vibration syndrome, its causes and symptoms, its controls and any associated legal requirements.

So, let’s better understand the condition:

Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted from work processes into workers' hands and arms.

This can cause a range of conditions collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS for short) – it affects nerves, blood vessels/muscles/joints in hands or wrists, as well as causing specific diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

The symptoms to look out for in hands or fingers are:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Blanching of digits
  • Swollen and painful joints
  • Reduced strength with a loss of grip or dexterity
  • Reduced sensory perception to touch or temperature
  • Involuntary muscular movement; and
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome medically diagnosed

The type of work activities known to cause HAVS include the use of any vibrating, reciprocating or rotating tools and equipment.

This means that if work activities include any of these typical high risk processes:

  • Grinding;
  • Sanding and polishing of wood;
  • Stone cutting;
  • Metal and wood riveting;
  • Caulking and hammering;
  • Compacting of sand and concrete including aggregate drilling and rock breaking;
  • Concrete and road face preparation; or
  • De-scaling and paint removal,

then the law requires special care to be taken including the completion of a specific risk assessment.

So what does the law require you to do?

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to assess the vibration risk to their employees and sets out two control limits:

Exposure action value (the daily amount of vibration exposure above which employers are required to take action to control exposure = 2.5m/s2).

Exposure limit value (the maximum amount of vibration an employee may be exposed to on any single day = 5m/s2).

An easy way to calculate exposure levels against legal standards is to go onto the HSE website and use their ‘vibration ready calculator' which is free and easy to use.

This only requires the input of two pieces of information – how long the person is intending to work on the equipment and the vibration output of the equipment itself (the manufacturer should supply this information).

So how do I control the risk of HAVS developing in the first place?

These are some of the factors which makes it more foreseeable that HAVS could be a problem:

  • Regular use of hand-held vibrating tools;
  • Manufacturers warnings and labels;
  • Complaints from workers identifying likely symptoms; and
  • Reaching the exposure limit values

Other practical tips

There are a range of other practical things that can help to reduce likely problems such as good maintenance of equipment including the purchase of lower vibration equipment.

Strict control over work time and frequent breaks with good monitoring regimes in place – for some tools the maximum duration of use can be in minutes!

Training of workers in symptom identification and proper equipment usage is also vital as well as effective procedures for problem reporting.

Providing appropriate PPE – anti-vibration gloves may help keep hands warm and assist circulation.

By taking this range of factors into account HAVS can be managed and hopefully eliminated from the workplace.