Occupational Health: The Effects of Hand-Arm Vibration at Work

Prolonged exposure to vibrating tools can cause many different debilitative disorders including any combination of circulatory, neurological, muscular and articular disorders. Effects can cause a number of conditions including Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and Dupuytren’s Contracture.

There is a wide range of occupations who are at risk of exposure to hand arm vibration including.

  • Construction workers: Using breakers, hammer drills and impact drivers.
  • Groundsmen: Using powered lawnmowers and brush cutters.
  • Mechanics: Using power tools such as orbital sanders.

As a result, the European Union set in motion Directive 2002/44/EC causing the UK Government to pass the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (2005) as secondary legislation under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974). Under these regulations there are duties on employers to control the exposure to vibration of employees and defined minimum standards on vibration exposure and health surveillance.

Despite the regulations being in place for some time the most recent HSE data shows that in 2021 there was 300 new cases of HAVS, 165 cases of CTS and 255 cases of Dupuytren’s Contracture. Between 2012 and 2021 there was 3950 new cases of HAVS and 1920 of CTS.

These statistics show that, despite their being statutory instruments in place, workers are still at risk of, and often acquire, conditions as a result of vibration exposure at work. So, what are the symptoms of hand arm vibration related conditions, and what do employers need to do to protect workers?

What are the signs of hand-arm vibration syndrome?

For each condition a set of similar or interrelated symptoms can occur that show signs of vibration exposure related conditions.

  • Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome:
    • Numbness and tingling in the fingers and a reduced sense of touch and temperature.
    • Blanching attacks due to impaired blood circulation
    • Joint pain and stiffness
    • Reduced grip strength.
  • Carpel Tunnel Syndrome:
    • An ache or pain in your fingers, hand or arm
    • Numb hands
    • Tingling or pins and needles
    • A weak thumb or difficulty gripping
  • Dupuytren’s Contracture:
    • One or more fingers bend in towards your palm.

Acquiring these symptoms can have a serious impact on a worker’s quality of life, wellbeing and ability to complete a task to a high standard. Workers may find it difficult to pick up tools and may experience pain when exposed to lower temperatures. The conditions can have a wider impact on wellbeing, affecting sleep which can reduce concentration and mood levels.

What are the employer duties in regards to hand-arm vibration?

white fingertipsEmployers must assess the risk to their employees from vibration. This includes reviewing systems of work and making an evaluation on whether workers are exposed to hand arm vibration and to what extent. The risk assessment should form part of a health surveillance programme, and identify workers who are at particular risk of hand arm vibration and make reasonable adjustments accordingly.

Employers must consider vibration as a “dose, that is the cumulative effect of vibration exposure averaged over an 8 hour working day. There are specific exposure levels laid down in the vibration regulations which are:

  • a daily EAV of 2.5 m/s2A(8) that represents a clear risk requiring management.
  • a daily ELV of 5 m/s2 A(8) that represents a high risk above which employees should not be exposed.

Employers should ensure that these limits are observed and appropriate proportionate controls are put in place as laid down in the regulations. Employees should be provided with information, instruction and training on the risks of vibration and the controls put in place to mitigate the risk.

How can WA Management help?

We provide a wide range of health and safety training, both online and in-person, to suit any needs your business may have in the protection of your employees. We can also offer bespoke risk assessments for any tools or operations that may expose your workers to vibration, complete with recommended controls to mitigate any negative effects.

Get in touch to find out more about how we can help!

Hand Arm Vibration and Noise at Work training courses are essential tools in protecting your workers from occupational hazards. Make sure you don’t miss out on our 10% off deal on these courses, available until the end of February. Simply enter the code ‘occupational10’ at checkout to save!

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