Exposure to vibration when using hand held / operated tools and machinery can lead to permanent injury of the hands and arms.
What you should know
Vibration is transmitted into your hands and arms when using hand held / operated tools and machinery. Excessive exposure can affect the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm causing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Construction workers are particularly at risk because of the work they do and the equipment they use such as concrete breakers, pokers and compactors, sanders, grinders and disc cutters, hammer drills, chipping hammers, chainsaws, scabblers and needle guns.HAVS sufferers find this can have an impact on keeping their job and on social and family life. Those affected can experience difficulty carrying out tasks involving fine or manipulative work and everyday tasks, such as fastening small buttons on clothes, become a problem too. Working outdoors in cold conditions, which is common in construction work, increases the likelihood of a painful response. Car washing or even watching outdoor sports when suffering from HAVS can lead to very painful attacks. This damage to the hands is largely irreversible.
What you must do
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 says you must prevent or reduce risks from exposure to vibration at work. Follow the Assess, Control and Review model.
Identify and assess: Construction sites have a range of different activities involving vibrating tools and machinery. Consider:
Who – think about your employees. What equipment are they using? Vibration risks come from many sources including hand-held power tools (such as grinders or road breakers) and hand-guided equipment (like pedestrian controlled floor saws). Give particular consideration to anyone who has a known problem caused by vibration (eg through health surveillance) or those with pre-existing medical conditions of the hands and circulation.
What – estimate or assess likely exposures from the tasks you are doing. This does not need to be complex, particularly for small sites. As a simple guide workers may be:
- at high risk (ie exposure above the Exposure Limit Value) if they regularly use hammer action tools for more than about an hour per day or some rotary and other action tools for more than about 4 hours per day
- at medium risk (ie exposed above the Exposure Action Value) if they regularly operate the same tools for more than about 15 minutes per day or 1 hour per day respectively
Further information on assessing vibration exposures is available. Look at manufacturers / suppliers information and trade association or other industry databases. You can also use HSE’s vibration calculator and ready reckoner. Contact C&C Consulting for additional help if you are unsure.
Where – consider where the work is taking place. For example, adopting an awkward posture can increase the force needed to apply and control tools. This increases the vibration levels passing into the user’s hand and arm