Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) Screening

An employer has a duty to provide health surveillance for all their employees who, despite actions to control the risk, are likely to be regularly exposed above the exposure action value or are considered to be at risk for any other reason. The Health and Safety Executive Guidance (HSG88) recommends a preventative approach to control the risk of injury.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

Hand assessmentIt may not have had the high profile of other occupational illnesses such as asbestosis, Work Related Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD), or stress, but Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) Screening is an area where liability claims have been growing for some time. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 ensures that employers have to take notice, as the legislation puts risk management at the forefront of dealing with the problem. As with many liability issues, it is a difficult area but one where the reduction and even prevention of risk is a realistic goal.

Exposure to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) can lead to damage to the structure and tissue of the hands and eventually lead to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) Screening. Symptoms of HAVS can include impaired circulation (leading to Vibration White Finger), reduced sense of touch, numbness and tingling, stiffness of the joints, reduced grip strength and manual dexterity. HAVS is commonly associated with tasks involving hand-held power tools, hand-guided equipment and holding of materials or work pieces that are presented for machining.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 has introduced new duties through the Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive, to protect employees from exposure to vibration at work.

The current position is that vibration at work is covered under various pieces of legislation relating to health and safety at work, the provision and use of work equipment, a safe working environment, the safety of machinery and injury reporting. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 sets out explicit duties that are only implicit under current provisions.

The regulations introduce two new exposure values. The first is an Exposure Action Value (EAV). This is the level of daily exposure for any worker, and if this is exceeded, specific action is required to be taken to reduce the risk. The second is an Exposure Limit Value (ELV). This is the level of daily exposure for any worker which must not be exceeded.

It should be noted that there are no established safe levels for vibration exposure. As such, the new EAV does NOT constitute a safe exposure value below which damage cannot occur. HAVS claims can still be successful even below this level.

In addition, there has been a change in the way in which the A (8) value is measured. This is the standardised method for determining the average daily exposure level and establishes the maximum period a given task can be undertaken in relative safety.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 also require the employer to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments, and then implement appropriate controls to eliminate or control vibration to below the EAV and/or to accommodate employees who are shown to be particularly susceptible.

Employers must provide health surveillance to those at risk, as well as relevant information, instruction and training to affected employees.

HAVS surveillance takes approximately 20 minutes and includes:

  • A confidential questionnaire
  • History of vibration exposure
  • Hand examination
  • Counselling
  • Referral to a specialist medical consultant if necessary
  • A record sheet for managers which will satisfy HSE requirements

The purpose of Hand Arm Vibration health surveillance is to:

  • Identify anyone exposed or about to be exposed to hand-arm vibration who may be at particular risk, for example people with blood circulatory diseases such as Raynaud’s Disease.
  • To identify any vibration-related disease at an early stage in employees regularly exposed to hand-held vibration.
  • To help prevent disease progression and eventually disability.
  • To help people stay in work.
  • To check the effectiveness of control measures.

Statistics from the HSE show that by the late 1990s:

  • Over 4 million workers were exposed to vibration at work
  • 1.2 million of those were exposed over the action levels
  • 300,000 workers had been diagnosed with HAVS, with 36,000 at severe levels of injury

There have been a number of developments in the law over the last few years in relation to HAVS.

Risk Management Strategies

In order to prevent HAVS and to ensure the framework is in place to successfully defend associated allegations of negligence in future, a management system is required that ensures:

  • Risk assessments are suitable and sufficient
  • Systems of work minimise exposure
  • Employees are properly informed and trained
  • Work equipment is suitable for the task and properly maintained
  • Health monitoring of those at risk
  • Record-keeping systems for retaining evidence of each of the above

The key defences in HAVS claims will involve arguments based on the above areas. It is recommended that a further technical risk assessment be undertaken for any activity where there is a risk of HAVS, so that accurate field-condition exposure levels can be established. Furthermore, periodic reassessments will be required to prove the continued validity of the original assessment.

When considering the various activities, tools, employee numbers and different materials worked upon, it is fair to say that delivering risk assessments that are ‘suitable and sufficient’ will be a challenge. It quickly becomes evident that this requires appropriate resource and project management.

Health surveillance assists the employer to comply with the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

How can Acorn Occupational Health help you?

As a leading provider of Occupational Health services across the UK, Acorn Occupational Health’s dedicated Occupational Health Advisors will work with you to ensure that onsite visits run smoothly and effectively. Each employee receives a personal summary of their health screening. The employer will receive a non-confidential health record for each individual, along with anonymous group statistics where appropriate. Our experienced Occupational Health Advisors aim to deliver a cost effective service designed to meet the needs of your business.

Hand Arm Vibration Monitoring

Acorn Occupational Health will provide Occupational Hygienists to monitor Hand Arm Vibration exposure. The specialised equipment measures vibration in three perpendicular axes simultaneously. The vector sum of the three axes is calculated in line with the requirements in the new regulations.

In many cases manufacturers’ claimed hand arm vibration levels for tools do not reflect the actual in-use levels. Usually they are an underestimate. Measurement of tools in real use and collection of information on actual ‘on trigger’ times allows a much better estimate of actual exposure to be made which you can then include on your assessment. Measurement surveys can therefore provide the underlying information that you need to complete your assessments.

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