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Vibration injuries; a risk that’s felt but overlooked
Written by 26 May 2021
Power tools are present in many workplaces, particularly ground maintenance, construction and the motor trade. Examples include chainsaws, drills, concrete breakers, grass cutting equipment, power sanders and nut guns. However, the prolonged use of such tools and the vibration risks that are associated when using them, is often overlooked by employers.
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)
HAVS is a disease that’s linked with damage to nerves and blood vessels caused by the extensive use of tools that cause vibration. The symptoms of HAVS can be uncomfortable, painful and sometimes even life-changing and include:
- Loss of strength in the hands
- Loss of feeling in fingers and thumbs
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers, which can cause sleep disturbance
- Tips of the fingers going white in cold weather and then being very painful on recovery (known as ‘vibration white finger’)
These symptoms can also cause secondary hazards and can even have long-term implications for an individual’s ability to perform their trade. For instance, a lack of grip when lifting or handling equipment could lead to other serious injuries.
To put it into context, a large property management company was fined £600,000 after five ground maintenance employees developed HAVS. As HAVS is a reportable occupational disease, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and found that the company hadn’t managed the risks associated with the use of the tools, according to the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. However, despite cases like this, many organisations still fail to identify the risk or complete a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
Managing vibration risks
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Power tool manufacturers have to provide details on the level of vibration given off during use - this information can be found in the technical specification/user manual that comes with the equipment when purchased. Once you have these figures, the HSE suggest they’re doubled to reflect the fact that they’ve been calculated in a lab environment, on brand new equipment. Then, to assess the level of risk based on usage times, refer to the HSE’s 'ready reckoner'.
If you can’t stop the use of such equipment, here are five easy ways to control exposures to vibration injuries:
- Up-to-date equipment – It’s important to ensure that existing tools are properly maintained. If new equipment is purchased it’s likely to generate significantly lower levels of vibration due to developments in technology.
- Take time out - Job rotation can help reduce individual exposure time, as can ensuring that regular breaks are taken between periods of use. However, in some cases, these are potentially less effective as they rely on users following rules, as well as adequate levels of supervision.
- Don’t just rely on PPE - Choosing anti-vibration gloves as a sole means of control is not the answer. PPE can play a part in conjunction with other methods, but is highly unlikely to win the favour of HSE inspectors on its own!
- Health surveillance – Such a programme must be implemented to ensure that symptoms are identified at an early stage. This could begin with issuing a questionnaire to relevant employees and encourage a visual examination of hands and fingers for any signs of blanching. An occupational health service provider will be able to assist with this.
- Training and information - Make sure your employees are aware of the hazards and understand the controls in place to protect them. One motor repair workshop that Sutton Winson work with, decided to display posters reminding Vehicle Technicians of the maximum continuous use times for pneumatic tools using red, amber and green visual warnings.
For further information or if you’d like our help in drafting your Risk Assessment or Vibrating Tools Policy, simply get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information source: HSE, 2021 - Hand-arm Vibration at Work 2021 - https://bit.ly/2RLwwed
I am a Director of Sutton Winson Consultancy Services Ltd, which delivers a range of risk management solutions. I joined Sutton Winson in January 2000 and have derived a great deal of satisfaction from helping our clients achieve significantly preferable insurance terms, and other financial benefits, by embracing proactive risk management.
I am a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (CMIOSH), a member of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), a Chartered Insurance Risk Manager and hold the FCII (Fellowship of the Chartered Insurance Institute).
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