A Partnership For Your Health At Work.
What is HAVS?
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), is a secondary form of Raynaud's syndrome and causes symptoms in fingers, hands and arms as a result of using vibrating tools. It used to be called vibration white finger. The name was changed to HAVS, as other symptoms may occur in addition to white fingers.
HAVS is caused by repeated and frequent use of hand-held vibrating tools - for example, power drills, chainsaws, pneumatic drills, powered lawnmowers etc. It may also be caused by holding or working with machinery that vibrates.
Jobs requiring regular and frequent use of vibrating tools and equipment and handling of vibrating materials are found in a wide range of industries, for example; building and maintenance of roads and railways; construction; estate management; forestry; foundries; heavy engineering; manufacturing concrete products; mines and quarries; motor vehicle manufacture and repair; public utilities and shipbuilding and repair.
HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. It is serious and disabling. Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks.
Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important. It will allow you, as the employer, to take action to prevent the health effects from becoming serious for your employee. The symptoms include any combination of:
For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years. They are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration.
As the condition develops, numbness becomes permanent. This leads to muscle weakness and wasting. In some cases the symptoms develop months or years after finishing working with vibrating tools.
The effects on people include:
These effects can severely limit the jobs an affected person is able to do, as well as many social activities.
What to do as an employer
The costs to employees and to employers of inaction could be high. British Airways has recently been fined £6,500 for breaching regulation 5(1) of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that the company had not sufficiently risk assessed the effect of exposure by staff at Glasgow airport to drills, impact hammers and sanders, thus putting them at risk of developing the condition.
There are simple and cost-effective ways to eliminate risk of HAVS. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 focuses on the elimination or control of vibration exposure. The long-term aim is to prevent new cases of HAVS occurring and enable workers to remain at work without disability.
The most efficient and effective way of controlling exposure to hand-arm vibration is to look for new or alternative work methods which eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration. This might include;
Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.
Staff at risk should undergo regular health surveillance. The assessment may involve a questionnaire, a physical examination, a discussion about symptoms and various simple tests. The tests may include checking grip strength, ability to perform fine hand movements and the response of the fingers to cold.
Your risk assessments should help you determine which employees are at risk.
This will depend on whether your employees regularly and frequently work with vibrating tools and equipment and/or handle vibrating materials. It will also depend on how long your employees are exposed to vibration and at what level. As a simple guide, you will probably need to do something about vibration exposures if you answer yes to any of the following questions: