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Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome – Two firms fined for safety breaches
Two Derbyshire-based construction firms were fined a total of almost £300,000 for safety breaches as a result of separate investigations into reported cases of carpel tunnel syndrome and hand arm vibration syndrome to employees.
Derby Crown Court heard how employees at the construction firms were regularly exposed to hand arm vibration through the use of a range of vibratory tools in the assembly and servicing of crushers and screeners.
Investigations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the activities of both companies found that they failed to adequately manage the risk to employees from exposure to vibration including failing to carry out suitable and sufficient assessments for the risk from vibration, and had not made reasonable estimates of employee’s exposure.
HSE inspector Edward Walker said after the hearing: “There is a well-known health risk associated with exposure to hand arm vibration and it is important that measures are put in place to manage the risk. Exposure to hand arm vibration can cause debilitating affects which could have been avoided.”
What is hand-arm vibration?
Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted into workers’ hands and arms. This can come from use of hand-held power tools (such as grinders or road breakers), hand-guided equipment (such as powered lawnmowers or pedestrian controlled floor saws) or by holding materials being worked by hand-fed machines (such as pedestal grinders or forge hammers).
Why is hand-arm vibration an issue?
Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can lead to two forms of permanent ill health known as:
- hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS); and
- carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Symptoms and effects of HAVS include:
- tingling and numbness in the fingers which can result in an inability to do fine work (for example, assembling small components) or everyday tasks (for example, fastening buttons);
- loss of strength in the hands which might affect the ability to do work safely;
- the fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery, reducing ability to work in cold or damp conditions, eg outdoors.
Symptoms and effects of CTS can also occur and include:
- tingling, numbness, pain and weakness in the hand which can interfere with work and everyday tasks and might affect the ability to do work safely.
Symptoms of both may come and go, but with continued exposure to vibration they may become prolonged or permanent and cause pain, distress and sleep disturbance. This can happen after only a few months of exposure, but in most cases it will happen over a few years.
What the law says
The Vibration Regulations require you to:
- make sure that risks from vibration are controlled;
- provide information, instruction and training to employees on the risk and the actions being taken to control risk; and
- provide suitable health surveillance.
The Vibration Regulations include an exposure action value (EAV) and an exposure limit value (ELV) based on a combination of the vibration at the grip point(s) on the equipment or work-piece and the time spent gripping it. The exposure action and limit values are:
- a daily EAV of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) that represents a clear risk requiring management; and
- a daily ELV of 5 m/s2 A(8) that represents a high risk above which employees should not be exposed.
Your duties are to reduce the risks from vibration to the lowest level reasonably practicable and to reduce exposure to as low as is reasonably practicable if it is above the EAV. You must not allow exposures to exceed the ELV.
If you comply with the Vibration Regulations you will prevent disability from HAVS and vibration-related CTS. Some people will develop early signs and symptoms of HAVS or CTS even at low exposures (for example, if they are susceptible to vibration injury and are regularly exposed to vibration at around the exposure action value, usually for some years). Your health surveillance should identify any harm early on, so appropriate action by you at this point will prevent disability.
Make sure you consult your trade union safety representative or employee representative on your proposals to:
- control risk; and
- provide health surveillance.
Certain cases of HAVS and all cases of vibration-related CTS must be reported to HSE in accordance with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) – see ‘Find out more’
Duties of manufacturers and suppliers
Manufacturers and suppliers have duties under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations to provide health and safety information in equipment handbooks.
They also have a duty to list the vibration emission in literature describing equipment performance. This should be, but is not always, suitable for estimating vibration exposure – check, for example, with the manufacturer or your supplier.
When you buy work equipment you should expect your supplier to provide the following:
- warning of any vibration-related risks from using the equipment;
- information on safe use and, where necessary, training requirements;
- information on how to maintain the equipment;
- information on the vibration emission of the equipment
For more information, including how to find out if HAVS is likely to be a problem in your workplace and how to control the risks, HSE’s brief guide “Hand-arm vibration at work” can be downloaded free by clicking on the link: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg175.pdf, or contact us at Fiona@eljay.co.uk or on 07896 016380 and we’ll be happy to help.
Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence