CSCS Test Revision – What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

This short CSCS Test revision article will give you a quick insight into HAVS and how it affects you.

Anyone working regularly with hand-held power tools and equipment, or anyone required to control vibrating workpieces undergoing any form of grinding or machine processing, must be aware that these and similar activities put operatives at a high risk of acquiring HAVS (Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome) which is a serious and disabling condition.

Such workplace tasks crop up regularly – in the construction industry for example – and almost 2 million workers are potentially at risk.

The hand-arm vibration phenomenon

When employees use or come into close contact with powered machinery and hand tools, the vibration such equipment generates is then transmitted directly to their hands and arms.

Prolonged exposure can be harmful to health, often resulting in HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) or CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome).

It’s known that the tendency to develop vibration damage in the hand and arm can vary considerably between individuals – some may develop symptoms after just a few years of exposure, whilst others seem to be immune and able to work for decades without experiencing significant problems.

Construction workers are particularly likely to be at risk from HAVS when using the following tools and machinery:

  • Concrete breakers, compactors and pokers
  • Sanders, disc cutters and grinders
  • Chipping hammers
  • Hammer drills
  • Chainsaws
  • Scabblers or needle guns

In addition, construction workers who regularly use hammer-action tools and equipment in excess of 15 minutes per day, or are required to use rotary and similar tools beyond one hour per day, may well be at an increased vibration-exposure risk.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome

Sustained vibration can damage not only nerves and blood vessels in the wrist and indeed throughout the entire length of the arm, but also cause damage to muscles and joints. These types of damage can occur alone or in combination, and nerve damage especially can cause permanent damage if it remains undetected until the later stages.

Common symptoms include the painful ‘vibration white finger‘ which results in acute discomfort in the fingers affected. If the symptoms are disregarded, HAVS can develop into a condition causing severe disability.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Exposure to sustained vibration is also one of the major causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. This nerve disorder can involve numbness, tingling, weakness and pain in parts of the hand and arm.

Minimising the risks

Employers have a duty to protect workers against HAVS but employees should be proactive too – for example by checking whether a job could be done differently to limit, or even eliminate, the use of power tools and/or vibrating machinery.

Health surveillance plays an essential role in detecting and responding to the early signs and symptoms of potential HAVS damage.

Sensible precautions:

  • wherever possible, use low-vibration equipment;
  • in order to minimise your exposure to hand-arm vibration, always choose the correct tool for every job and ensure all on-site tools and machinery are well-maintained and in good repair. Worn and faulty equipment, apart from being dangerous and inefficient, is also more prone to vibration;
  • likewise, all tools and machinery must also be properly sharpened to increase safety and speed of completion of the job;
  • wherever possible, workers should split the task by doing other jobs in between, thus avoiding prolonged exposure to vibration;
  • workers should refrain from gripping workpieces or tools tightly. This is not only good practice because it prevents accidents by improving manual control; it also minimises the risk of HAVS.
  • tools should be carefully stored to avoid handles becoming excessively cold;
  • promote healthy blood circulation by: i) wearing suitably warm and waterproof clothing; ii) keeping fingers well-massaged and exercised during breaks; iii) reducing, or giving up, smoking which otherwise tends to reduce blood flow;
  • any hand symptoms experienced should always be reported at once; either to your employer or the designated person responsible for injuries and health checks;
  • follow all instructions and recommended control measures adopted in the workplace to minimise the HAVS risk;
  • consult your designated workplace or trade union safety representative for further information and advice.

Summing up

HAVS (Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome) is a disorder that affects thousands of people around the world, from musicians to construction workers – and just about anyone who is exposed to prolonged vibrations at work. If left untreated, this condition can cause permanent disability and an inability to complete daily tasks.

Taking precautions for operating machinery with vibrations is paramount to avoid developing HAVS; wearing proper protection gear, regularly taking breaks, and increasing staff awareness are all necessary to reduce the likeliness of workers getting HAVS.

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