How to Prevent Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

D0 you know vibration can cause long-term painful damage to your hands, fingers and arm? And that shocks and jolts from driving certain types of vehicles can cause severe back pain? There are a few types of vibration that are encountered in the work place. But the most common are:
Hand-arm vibration
Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints).
Whole body vibration
Whole-body vibration (WBV) is transmitted through the seat or feet of employees who drive mobile machines, or other work vehicles, over rough and uneven surfaces as a main part of their job. Large shocks and jolts may cause health risks including back-pain. Advice on reducing the risks of back and muscle pain caused by shocks/vibrations when driving certain types of vehicle.
Are You at Risk?
Personnel who regularly use hand-held or hand guided power tools and machines are at risk. These machines or tools include but are not limited to:
  • Concrete breakers, concrete pokers; Sanders, grinders, disc cutters;
  • Hammer drills; Chipping hammers; Chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers,
  • Powered mowers; Scabblers or needle guns,
  • If you hold work pieces, which vibrate
  • You are particularly at risk if you regularly operate: “hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day”.

Early signs and symptoms to look out for?

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers (which can cause sleep disturbance)
  • Not being able to feel things with your fingers;
  • Loss of strength in your hands (you may be less able to pick up or hold heavy objects);
  • Fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the tips at first).

Preventing Whole-body vibration

To prevent whole-body vibration, kindly do the following:
  • Avoid risky behaviors;
  • Evaluate the risks that cannot be avoided
  • Combat the risks at source;
  • Adapt the work to the individual, e.g. workplaces design; work equipment choice and working methods;
  • Adapt to technical progress
  • Replace any dangerous vehicles with non-dangerous vehicles
  • Adhere to prevention policies, conditions, and the influence of factors relating to the working environment;
  • Give appropriate instructions to employees.

Protection against Hand-arm vibration?

It is employers’ responsibility to protect its personnel against HAVS and carpal tunnel syndrome, but you should help by asking your employer if your job could be done in a different way without using vibrating tools and machines. If this cannot happen:
  • Ask to use suitable low-vibration tools;
  • Always use the right tool for each job (to do the job more quickly and expose you to less hand-arm vibration);
  • Check tools for wear and tear before using them ;
  • Make sure cutting tools are kept sharp so that they remain efficient;
  • Reduce the amount of time you use a tool in one go, by doing other jobs in between;
  • Avoid gripping or forcing a tool or work piece more than you have to;
  • Store tools so that they do not have very cold handles when next used;
  • Encourage good blood circulation by:
    • Keeping warm and dry (when necessary, wear gloves, a hat, waterproofs and use heating pads if available);
    • Giving up or cutting down on smoking because smoking reduces blood flow; and
    • Massaging and exercising your fingers during work break.
Key Messages
  • Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent;
  • HAVS is serious and disabling, and nearly 2 million people are at risk;
  • Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching.

HSE Quotes
Safety is like a member of your family. Treat it with disrespect and it will leave you exposed to harm. Treat it with respect and nurture it as you go and will remain with you always – from Sue C

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