What is hand-arm vibration syndrome?
Hand-arm vibration (HAVs) occurs when vibrations are transmitted into the fingers, hands and arms whilst using hand-held powered work equipment. Any vibrating equipment can put you at risk of permanent injury especially if you use them for more than a few hours each day. The best known health condition related to HAVs is vibration white finger (VWF), however, vibration is also linked to other diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome (a nerve disorder involving pain, numbness and tingling, and weakness in parts of the hand, which, at its most severe, can cause total lack of sensation in the affected hand). Vibration white finger is a permanent condition, so it is important to stop it developing in the first place.
How does HAVs affect you?
HAVs affects the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm. It is not just a discomfort. It can become seriously disabling, if ignored. The early signs are tingling and numbness in the fingers and loss of strength/grip in the hands. In the cold and wet, the tips of the fingers go white, then red, and are very painful when they warm up again.
HAVs can be prevented, but once the damage is done it is permanent and can have an impact on normal daily activities (e.g. picking up small objects, working in cold weather).
What are employers' responsibilities?
There are regulations your employer has to obey to protect workers from risks to health from vibration.
A few simple measures can help prevent the onset of HAVs:
- You must be given the right tools for the job and avoid gripping or forcing a tool more than you have to.
- Good circulation is key to preventing HAVs so you should keep your hands warm and dry. Smoking can also increase your risk.
It is important that you make your line manager and union health and safety representative aware as early as possible of any signs of HAVs developing, so that an early investigation can take place.
All vibrating equipment used within the workplace needs to be assessed for vibration measurements. All equipment bought since 2010 should indicate its vibration measurements, however, there are other ways of identifying the vibration measurements of older equipment:
- Manufacturers can be contacted to offer measurements when the equipment is calibrated.
- A vibration calculator can be found on the HSE website.
Due to the risks associated with the prolonged use of vibrating equipment, employers should put health surveillance procedures in place for employees who may be at risk. Further detail is available from the HSE website.
What help is available for employees?
The HSE website provides a range of information on how to prevent exposure to vibration.
The TUC has a number of resources on its website. You should also contact your union or health and safety representative for advice if you have any issues relating to vibration at work.
The Health for Work Adviceline can offer guidance to employers, health and safety representatives and employees on health surveillance. Health surveillance should be undertaken in organisations in which employees are using hand-held powered work equipment if they are at risk of HAVS, or if anyone has a diagnosis of HAVs (even if exposure levels are lower than the level at which health surveillance is required by law).
For more information about HAVs, or for guidance on HAVs assessment, please contact the Health for Work Adviceline on Freephone 0800 077 88 44.
Further sources of information
More information on HAVs, vibration white finger and carpal tunnel syndrome can be found on the following websites:
Issued: 20 March, 2013