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Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome & How Important Health Surveillance Is

Posted on February 25, 2019

What Is Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome?

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome, also known as HAVS, is the catch all term used for injuries in the fingers, hands an arms caused by the vibrations which occur when using machinery.

Injuries caused by vibrations are usually split into three different categories. Neurological disorders, vascular injuries and musculoskeletal injuries.

What Are The Symptoms of HAVS?

As there are a number of different injuries and disorders which fall under the umbrella of hand arm vibration. The symptoms experienced can be varied.

Neurological Disorders

These disorders are normally categorised by feelings of numbness in the hands and fingers. A tingling sensation in the fingers can also be a sign of a neurological disorder. You can expect to experience reduced dexterity and a lack of sensation or feeling in the fingers.

If a neurological disorder is left to fully develop it can cause severe problems at work. In severe cases the damage caused can be irreversible. And the suffer will find it difficult to hold objects, or perform other simple tasks.

Vascular Injuries

Vascular injuries show the symptoms you probably associate with HAVS. The capillaries in the hands constrict as they normally would in the cold. Causing the fingers to turn white, or blanch. There will be a feeling of numbness when the fingers are white. And discomfort when the blood and colour returns.

Musculoskeletal Injuries

Musculoskeletal injuries cause pain, reduced mobility, and reduced grip strength. It is difficult to diagnose these injuries as tests can show normal results. This is because the muscles, and muscle mass, can remain intact even when experiencing problems. Arthritis and tendinitis fall into this category of injuries.

How is Hand-Arm Vibration Caused?

Hand arm vibration syndrome is caused by repeated or prolonged exposure to vibration. These injuries are common in the construction industry. As it is the use of heavy machinery such as cutting tools, jackhammers, and circular saws which give out the type of vibration that causes these injuries.

Although they get a lot less press coverage and attention, this type of injury is also common in the dental industry. The drills and other equipment used give out high frequency vibrations. These are the type of vibrations which cause HAVS.

How Can You Prevent HAVS?

The key to preventing hand arm vibration syndrome injuries is reducing risk. Adequate and frequent risk assessments are vital to reducing the possibility of any of your staff contracting HAVS injuries.

The HSE guidance on this issue is split into two sections. The first concerns working methods, the second is the equipment being used.

Provide the Correct Equipment

The equipment being used should be able to easily perform the task. Vibration injuries are caused by prolonged exposures. Equipment which is not efficient will take a longer amount of time to complete the work. Meaning whoever is performing the task will be exposed to vibrations for longer than is necessary.

This does not mean you should be using the most high powered tools possible for every task. You should be aiming to use the “lowest vibration tool” possible. And not be use vibration tools for tasks when this is possible.

Alternative Working Methods

As part of your risk assessments you should be looking to constantly evolve your methods of working. The HSE recommends discussing your methods of work with other members of your industry. This could include your equipment suppliers, any associations you are a member of, or even health and safety expert such as ourselves.

Any of the groups may have a better method for completing a particular task. Or even a way of automating the task. Reducing the contact time with vibrating tools.

The Importance of Health Surveillance

Preventing hand arm vibration syndrome is about reducing the risks and managing the problem. Therefore if you have employees who are frequently using high-vibration tools, you need to be monitoring their health.

As was touched upon above, HAVS injuries can be permanent if they are left to develop unchecked. As was the case last year when a company who had an employee using high-vibration tools for 15 years was fined £50,000.

They were fined as the magistrate found that they had not performed risk assessments, or implemented safe systems of work. This means workers were exposed to higher levels of vibration from tools than was necessary.

One other aspect that was identified was the lack of health surveillance programme. Because of how these injuries develop it is vital that if your workers are frequently exposed to high vibration tools, there is systematic checking of their health. The symptoms of HAVS injuries can subside if they are caught early. But become permanent when they reach an advanced stage.

Following this case, HSE inspector Lee Jones summed up why health surveillance is so important in this area. Stating,  “This was a case of the company completely failing to understand the importance of assessing the risk to their employees from exposure to vibration and therefore putting in place the correct control measures.

“If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers’ health, and the employee’s condition would not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life-altering stage.”

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