A property management and development organisation has been fined after five employees developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
The Court heard that between 2009 and 2014 five employees of the company used vibrating powered tools to carry out grounds maintenance tasks at various sites
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to assess or manage the risks associated with vibrating tools. It also failed to provide suitable training or health surveillance for its maintenance workers and failed to maintain and replace tools which increased vibration levels.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company has been fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,995.06
Speaking after the hearing the HSE inspector said: “Companies must manage the risks associated with vibrating tools. Hand arm vibration can be a significant health risk wherever powered hand tools are used for significant lengths of time.
“HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks. Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.”
Advice for employers
This guidance will help you understand:
- What you may need to do as an employer under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 which came into force in July 2005;
- How you can protect your employees from hand-arm vibration.
This guidance will also be of interest to you if you are an employer whose business involves the use of hand-guided powered equipment and powered machines which process hand-held materials and of particular interest if your business involves the regular and frequent use of hand-held power tools.
You may also find this guidance helpful if you are:
- An employee, or self-employed person, who uses vibrating equipment;
- A trade union safety representative or an employee representative;
- An adviser on occupational vibration risks.
If your workers use vibrating equipment you may also have to consider risks from exposure to noise.
By law, as an employer, you must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration so that you can protect your employees from risks to their health.
Where the risks are low, the actions you take may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, you should manage them using a prioritised action plan to control exposure to hand-arm vibration.
Where required, ensure that:
- Control measures to reduce vibration are properly applied; and
- You provide information, training and health surveillance.
Review what you are doing if anything changes that may affect exposures to vibration where you work.
The Health effects of hand-arm vibration at work
What is hand-arm vibration?
Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted from work processes into workers’ hands and arms. It can be caused by operating hand-held power tools, such as road breakers, and hand-guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by machines, such as pedestal grinders.
When is it hazardous?
Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can lead to permanent health effects. This is most likely when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular part of a person’s job. Occasional exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.
What health effects can it cause?
Hand-arm vibration can cause a range of conditions collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), as well as specific diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
What are the early symptoms?
Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important. It will allow you, as the employer, to take action to prevent the health effects from becoming serious for your employee. The symptoms include any combination of:
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers;
- Not being able to feel things properly;
- Loss of strength in the hands;
- Fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the tips at first).
For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years. They are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration and may become permanent.
What effects do these symptoms have?
The effects on people include:
- Pain, distress and sleep disturbance;
- Inability to do fine work (eg assembling small components) or everyday tasks (eg fastening buttons);
- Reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions (ie most outdoor work) which would trigger painful finger blanching attacks;
- Reduced grip strength, which might affect the ability to do work safely.
These effects can severely limit the jobs an affected person is able to do, as well as many family and social activities.
Do you have a hand-arm vibration problem at work?
This will depend on whether your employees regularly and frequently work with vibrating tools and equipment and/or handle vibrating materials. It will also depend on how long your employees are exposed to vibration and at what level. As a simple guide you will probably need to do something about vibration exposures if any of the following apply:
- Do your employees complain of tingling and numbness in their hands or fingers after using vibrating tools?
- Do your employees hold work pieces, which vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders?
- Do your employees regularly use hand-held or hand guided power tools and machines such as:
- concrete breakers, concrete pokers
- sanders, grinders, disc cutters
- hammer drills
- chipping hammers
- chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers
- powered mowers
- scabblers or needle guns
- Do your employees regularly operate:
- Hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or
- Some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day.
- Do you work in an industry where exposures to vibration are particularly high, such as construction, foundries, or heavy steel fabrication/shipyards?
Which jobs and industries are most likely to involve hand-arm vibration?
Jobs requiring regular and frequent use of vibrating tools and equipment and handling of vibrating materials are found in a wide range of industries, for example:
- building and maintenance of roads and railways
- estate management (eg maintenance of grounds, parks, water courses, road and rail side verges)
- heavy engineering
- manufacturing concrete products
- mines and quarries
- motor vehicle manufacture and repair
- public utilities (eg water, gas, electricity, telecommunications)
- shipbuilding and repair
What kinds of tools and equipment can cause ill health from vibration?
There are hundreds of different types of hand-held power tools and equipment which can cause ill health from vibration. Some of the more common ones are:
- concrete breakers/road breakers
- cut-off saws (for stone etc)
- hammer drills
- hand-held grinders
- impact wrenches
- needle scalers
- pedestal grinders
- power hammers and chisels
- powered lawn mowers
- powered sanders
- strimmers/brush cutters
Do you engage in routine continual monitoring or logging of workers’ vibration exposure?
8 Questions about Vibration Exposure Monitoring
HSE inspectors commonly come across companies that are engaged in routine continual monitoring or logging of workers’ hand-arm vibration exposure (eg using log books, in-line electrical or pneumatic timers or more sophisticated electronic timers and wearable timers). The following Q&A for employers addresses why HSE advises that such monitoring is unlikely to be necessary.
1) Must I continually monitor workers’ exposure to vibration?
No. There is no legal requirement for continual monitoring and recording of vibration exposure. To do so is probably not a good use of your or your employees’ time, unless there are very specific circumstances (see below).
What you must do is decide what workers’ exposure is likely to be, as part of a vibration risk assessment. So a period of monitoring to understand how long workers use particular tools in a typical day or week may be necessary – if it helps you to do your risk assessment. Once you know enough about the work to say what the exposure is likely to be (and whether it is likely to exceed either the Exposure Action or Exposure Limit Value) your focus can shift to investigating, and taking, practical steps to reduce the exposure and the risks.
2) So I’ve stopped continual monitoring. Now what?
It’s likely that you can put your monitoring data to some use. It may give you enough information to decide what individuals or groups of workers are at risk from vibration, either routinely or on an intermittent basis. Please refer to webpage www.hse.gov.uk/vibration for guidance. Take positive action to reduce the exposure and the risks – eg change the work process to avoid the need to use hand tools, modify the work to improve ergonomics, change to better tools with lower vibration and good ergonomic design, maintain and look after the tools and consumables and train your workers. Make sure the action you take results in real changes – monitor your systems and make sure work instructions are being followed. Don’t forget health surveillance for workers at risk, to pick up early signs of ill-health.
3) I’m using monitoring to make sure my workers keep below the Exposure Limit. Isn’t that sensible?
Just because your workers’ exposure is below the Limit, it doesn’t mean you have complied with the law, or done enough to protect workers’ health. A fundamental requirement under the regulations is that exposure is reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’.
If your workers’ exposure is regularly reaching the Exposure Limit Value, then you should be looking at doing the work in a different way. Restricting exposure to just below the Exposure Limit Value will still result in many workers developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
4) Why and when might it be helpful to have on-going monitoring?
If there are particular workers who, following medical advice, have restrictions placed on their vibration exposure, then it would be sensible to have a system in place to make sure that that restricted level was not being exceeded, although this does not have to be through on-going monitoring. Another example might be for emergency work involving vibration exposure.
5) Our insurance company expects us to keep exposure records – why?
Your insurance company should be able to tell you why it expects you to make and keep these records. As noted above, there is no legal requirement on continual monitoring, and HSE does not advise it on a routine basis. Your insurance company will rightly be concerned about its liability should your workers develop ill-health; you can identify your steps taken to minimise risks and prevent ill health by means of your risk assessment and evidence of the practical actions you are taking.
6) What about the ‘tool timers’ and ‘vibration meters’ that can be bought?
There is nothing wrong with using these devices, it’s just that there is not generally a need for one to be issued to every worker, or attached to every tool. As noted above, continual monitoring and recording of vibration exposure is not a requirement of the regulations, nor does HSE advise that it is a sensible thing to do on a routine basis.
It is worth noting that some devices that are sold as ‘vibration meters’ do not measure the vibration exposure of workers or the vibration magnitude need to estimate exposures – they may only measure the amount of time that a tool is being used, so similar to a stopwatch. Any system used to determine risk from hand-arm vibration should be based on either exposure in m/s2 A or exposure point, HSE guidance document L140.
7) Do hand-arm vibration measurements need to be taken “on the tool”? (NEW)
Yes – Hand-arm vibration measurements should be made with the transducer firmly attached to the vibrating surface. Hand-held mounts are not generally recommended, but may be used with care such that you ensure there is good and continuous contact with the vibrating surface. Any measurement away from the palm of the hand or where the measurement position is on the back of the hand, fingers or wrist is unlikely to provide reliable measurement. Further advice is given in BS EN ISO 5349-2:2001. There is currently no wrist or glove mounted device which measures vibration suitable for use in a vibration risk assessment.
If a hand-arm vibration measurement system is to be used then it should measure according to the requirements of BS EN ISO 5349-1: 2001. This standard specifies that vibration measurements shall be made on the vibrating surface at the point where the vibration enters the hand (or hands). In addition to the measurement methodology standard any equipment used to measure hand-arm vibration magnitudes should comply with BS EN ISO 8041:2005.
It is important that measurements are not carried out in isolation. You should be confident that the measurements you obtain are reasonable for the machines or tools being used. Verification of results by comparison with data from other sources is strongly recommended, eg HSE guidance, machine manufacturers, trade associations etc.
8) I want to use a ‘tool timer’ monitoring system; does it have to be mounted on the tool? (NEW)
No – The location of a time monitoring system can be on or off the tool as long as the following criteria can be achieved:
- it is capable of logging all of the time each tool is in use and the individual’s total vibration exposure
- the system estimates vibration exposure using vibration magnitude data from a reliable source that gives representative data of the tool, handle or workpiece in use
More guidance is available on the HSE website https://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/ or contact us and we’ll be happy to help
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.