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Workplace Exposure - Part 2 of 3: HAVS

In this article, I will be discussing the exposure to vibration, its effects, and what needs to be done to control the risk. As stated in part 1, most industrious sectors will inevitably expose workers to vibration through vibrating tools or machinery. Excessive and frequent exposure to vibrations can cause a debilitating condition commonly known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) or Vibration White Finger (VWF). This is a form of Raynaud’s disease, which affects the soft tissue in the hand, wrist and arms. This can lead to extreme pain, the loss of hand/arm function and in extreme cases, amputation. If vibrating tools or machinery are used in your work place, then as an employer it is your responsibility to ensure that the risk is suitable monitored and controlled. This doesn’t mean just providing PPE and ignoring the issue. Remember, PPE is the last line of defence, not the solution!

There are a number of factors to consider when controlling the risk of vibration within your workforce. Firstly, you will need to identify the tools and processes that expose employees to vibration. You would then need to work out the EV (Exposure Value) for each tool/machine. This adds the vibration output of the tool to the time the tool is used. You can compare this value to the EAV (Exposure Action Value) which is the point where action must be taken to reduce the risk, and the ELV (Exposure Limit Value) which is high risk, above which employees must not be exposed to.

You can do this by checking the manufacturer’s specifications of the tool/machine (taking into consideration deterioration of the machine due to age) and estimating the “trigger time” (the time in which the tool is in operation) and inputting this into a vibration calculator which is available on the HSE website. This would give you a good estimation on your employee’s exposure to vibration. If you feel you do not have enough knowledge or time to do the above, or the EV’s are particularly high, you may wish to consult a specialist to come in and assess tools for you. This does come at a cost, however the benefits of this are that you will gain very accurate information on the vibration outputs of the tools used in your workplace.

Once you have a good idea of the exposure levels, you then need to take measures to reduce this. There are a number of ways you can do this, some of which are below:

  • Change the task or tool (Does a task have to be completed with a vibrating tool, could the task be prohibited or out sourced to a specialist)

  • Replace tools for ones with a lower vibration output, i.e air tools for battery tools. (If employees provide their own tools, consider providing an approved tool list)

  • Job rotation; can employees rotate tasks so that the time they use vibrating tools on a daily or weekly basis is reduced.

  • PPE – Provide anti Vibration gloves for tasks that require vibrating tools.

  • Once you are happy with your control measures, it is important to monitor them and check that they are still working. The best way of doing so is having a suitable health surveillance programme in place. With HAVS there is a Tier system which escalates from Tier 1 to Tier 5.

  1. Tier 1 – Initial screening questionnaire; This is a self assessment completed by employees upon the start of induction. Any areas of concern require referring to Tier 3.

  2. Tier 2 – Annual Screening – A self assessment completed annually by employees. Any areas of concern are referred to Tier 3.

  3. Tier 3 – This is an assessment completed by a suitably qualified person such as an occupational health nurse. If there are further concerns the employee is refered for tier 4 HAVS.

  4. Tier 4 – This is an assessment by a suitably qualified doctor who will provide a suitable diagnosis and advise on the employees fitness to work.

  5. Tier 5 – An optional but recommended process where fitness to work will be fully assessed by a suitably qualified doctor.

At any point of the health surveillance process, any referral should raise concerns that there is an issue with the control measures in place and that this should be investigated. It may be that the employee uses vibrating tools in personal time; however, this does not mean that you should dismiss the issue. Remember that in order to be prosecuted for breaches of health and safety law, only the risk of injury/ill health to occur needs to be proved, not the exact source. So that means if your control measures are not up to scratch; you could end up being prosecuted or fined, even if the employee uses vibrating tools in their own time!

There is lots of information and guidance available at the HSE website or alternatively get in touch with KVF Consultants and we will be happy to help with your queries.

Jamie McPhie, TechIOSH

KVF Senior H&S Advisor

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