Understanding Hand Arm Vibration in Construction: Risks, Effects, and Mitigation
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a serious occupational health issue that effects workers who regularly use vibrating tools and equipment. In the construction industry, where such tools are frequently employed, it is crucial to raise awareness about HAVS and understand the associated risks. This article aims to provide valuable insights into HAVS, its effects on construction workers, tools most likely to cause vibration-related issues, risk assessment, and strategies for reducing the risks.
Hand arm vibration syndrome (havs):
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, also known as Vibration White Finger, is a condition caused by prolonged exposure to hand-arm vibrations. It primarily effects the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues in the hands and arms. Construction workers who regularly use vibrating tools and equipment are at a higher risk of developing HAVS. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimated that around 2 million people are exposed to hand-arm vibration at work and that approximately 17% of workers in the construction industry are at risk of developing HAVS.
HAVS is often the result of using handheld power tools or machinery that produce vibrations. The vibration transmitted to the hands and arms can cause damage over time. It is essential to understand the risks associated with HAVS and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.
Risks posed to construction workers:
Construction workers who handle vibrating tools are susceptible to various health risks associated with HAVS, including:
Vascular Disorders: Prolonged exposure to hand-arm vibrations can lead to blood vessel constriction, reduced blood flow, and tissue damage, resulting in vascular disorders. This can manifest as white finger, where the fingers turn pale and cold due to restricted blood flow.
Neurological Effects: HAVS can cause nerve damage, resulting in numbness, tingling, loss of sensation, and reduced dexterity in the hands and arms. Workers may experience tingling or numbness in the hands, making it difficult to perform tasks requiring precision and fine motor skills.
Musculoskeletal Disorders: Vibrating tools can contribute to the development of musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. The repeated vibrations can strain the muscles, tendons, and joints in the hands and arms, leading to pain, discomfort, and reduced grip strength.
Effects of hand arm vibration
The effects of HAVS can vary from mild to severe, depending on the duration and intensity of exposure. Common symptoms include:
a. White finger: Fingers turn pale and cold due to restricted blood flow. This occurs because of the blood vessels constricting due to prolonged exposure to vibrations.
b. Tingling and numbness: Workers may experience tingling or numbness in the hands, making it difficult to perform tasks requiring precision and fine motor skills. The nerves in the hands and arms can be damaged by the continuous vibrations.
c. Loss of grip strength: Reduced grip strength can impact workers’ ability to handle tools safely and effectively. HAVS can weaken the muscles and decrease the worker’s ability to grip and hold objects securely.
d. Pain and discomfort: HAVS can cause pain, stiffness, and discomfort in the hands and arms, affecting workers’ productivity and overall well-being. Workers may experience aches and discomfort that can interfere with their daily activities both on and off the job.
Workers at risk:
Construction workers who frequently use vibrating tools, such as breakers, concrete pokers, sanders, and grinders, are particularly vulnerable to HAVS. These tools generate high levels of vibrations and require prolonged usage, increasing the risk of developing the syndrome. Research suggests that up to 20% of individuals with HAVS may be forced to change jobs or leave employment altogether due to the severity of their condition.
Other factors that increase the risk of HAVS include long durations of tool use without sufficient breaks, inadequate maintenance and inspection of tools, and lack of proper training and awareness about the dangers of hand-arm vibrations.
tools most likely to cause hand arm vibrations:
Certain tools are known to generate higher levels of hand-arm vibrations. These include:
Power tools: Angle grinders, chainsaws, jackhammers, and impact wrenches are examples of power tools that commonly produce significant vibrations. Workers who frequently operate these tools are at a higher risk of developing HAVS.
Handheld equipment: Sanders, rotary hammers, and concrete vibrators are handheld tools that can contribute to HAVS if used extensively. These tools transmit vibrations directly to the hands and arms, increasing the risk of developing hand-arm vibration syndrome.
The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) reports that the top vibrating tools associated with reported cases of HAVS in construction include angle grinders, concrete breakers, and sanders.
Calculating the risks:
To assess the risk of HAVS in the workplace, employers can conduct vibration exposure measurements. These measurements consider factors such as vibration magnitude, duration of exposure, and the frequency of tool use. Calculating vibration exposure levels helps determine appropriate control measures and preventive strategies.
The length of exposure to hand-arm vibration is measured in metres per second squared (m/s²). Workers are at greater risk when using a tool rated above 2.5 m/s² throughout an 8-hour working day. Continuous use of a tool rated above 5.0 m/s² represents a dangerously high risk.
The Construction Confederation and Hire Association Europe, in partnership with the HSE, developed a simple ‘traffic light’ system of colour coding to demonstrate the vibration risks associated with tools and equipment.
HIGH Vibration Risk Equipment
Covers equipment over 5m/s2. Specific risk assessments will be required.
medium: vibration risk equipment
Covers equipment that may be used for two hours maximum each day without further assessment. Products at the low end of the amber range may be used for longer periods but must be justified by a risk assessment.
LOW Vibration risk equipment
Covers equipment that may be used intermittently throughout an eight-hour day with low risk of vibration injury.
Employers should conduct regular risk assessments to identify employees who may be at risk of developing HAVS. This includes evaluating the tools used, the duration of usage, and the control measures in place. It is estimated that up to 300,000 working days are lost each year in the UK due to hand-arm disability related absences (Health and Safety Laboratory).
reducing the risks:
Reducing the risks of HAVS requires a comprehensive approach, incorporating various strategies:
- Tool selection: Opt for tools with lower vibration levels and vibration-damping features whenever possible. Manufacturers often provide information on the vibration levels produced by their tools, allowing employers to make informed decisions when purchasing new equipment.
- Maintenance and inspection: Regularly inspect and maintain tools to ensure they are in optimal condition. Worn or damaged equipment can increase vibrations and pose a greater risk to workers. Implement a preventive maintenance program to address any issues promptly.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Provide workers with appropriate PPE, such as anti-vibration gloves, to reduce the transmission of vibrations to the hands. Anti-vibration gloves have specialised padding that helps absorb and dampen the vibrations, providing an additional layer of protection.
- Training and education: Train workers on the risks of HAVS, safe tool usage techniques, and the importance of taking breaks to minimise exposure. Educate them on early symptoms of HAVS, emphasising the importance of reporting any discomfort or changes in sensation in their hands or arms.
- Work organisation: Implement work schedules that incorporate regular breaks to allow workers’ hands and arms to recover from vibration exposure. Rotating workers between tasks that involve vibrating tools and those without vibrations can help reduce prolonged exposure. Employers in the UK have a legal obligation to manage the risks associated with HAVS. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 sets exposure limits and requires employers to assess and control workers’ exposure to hand-arm vibration.
- Job rotation: Rotate workers between different tasks to minimise continuous exposure to vibrating tools. This approach helps distribute the workload and ensures that no worker is consistently exposed to high levels of hand-arm vibrations.
At THX Ltd, we understand the importance of providing our customers with a wide range of tools while prioritising their safety and well-being. That’s why we offer a comprehensive selection of hand-held and hand-guided power tools for various construction applications. From Concrete Breakers and Grinders and Sanders, to Hammer Drills and Disc Cutters, explore our full range today.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is a significant concern for construction workers exposed to vibrating tools and equipment. By understanding the risks, effects, and methods to reduce exposure, employers and workers can promote a safer working environment and minimise the potential long-term health consequences of HAVS. Prioritising worker health and safety through comprehensive risk assessment and effective control measures is essential in the construction industry and any workplace where hand-arm vibrations are prevalent. Implement strategies such as proper tool selection, maintenance, training, and regular breaks can go a long way in reducing the risks associated with HAVS and ensuring the well-being of workers in the construction industry.