Understanding HAVS and WBV
Extended use of vibrating tools and machinery such as drills, saws, sanders, strimmers and impact hammers can lead to nerve damage and long-term health problems such as Hand-Arm Vibration syndrome (HAVS) and Whole Body Vibration (WBV) issues.
Both are seriously debilitating and incurable conditions that are entirely preventable through monitoring an operator’s exposure to vibration.
Alarmingly, HAVS is on the rise. HSE figures show 5,620 new cases in the UK over the last ten years – an increase of 12.5% on the previous decade. Understanding HAVS and WBV is essential to bringing this figure down and protecting workers.
Understanding HAVS - The Statistics
workers worldwide at risk of HAVS (UK Medical Research Council 1999)
workers at risk of vibration exposure every day in the UK (HSE)
workers currently suffering from advanced stages of HAVS or WBV
workers suffering from a new case of work-related musculoskeletal disorder in 2019/20
Vibration limits are defined by 2 limits, set by the HSE, both of which are calculated by assessing the vibration at grip points on a tool or piece of equipment, and the time spent using it.
In some cases, individual operators may have lower values according to their own health factors or Occupational Health Guidance. Some companies choose to operate at lower limits, levels below the HSE Regulations.
All limits can be lowered to suit the company or individual needs, however, they CANNOT exceed HSE Regulations of 100 points to EAV and 400 points to ELV.
The Control of Vibration
at Work Regulations (2005)
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (2005) requires all businesses to control operator risks from WBV and protect against HAVS through taking the following steps:
- Assess the vibration risk to all employees
- Assess those who might be exposed above the EAV and introduce a programme of controls to eliminate or reduce their daily exposure
- Decide if they are likely to be exposed above the ELV and to take immediate action to reduce their exposure if they are
- Provide information and training on health risks and controls to employees at risk
- Keep a record of risk assessment and control actions
- Review and update the risk assessment regularly
If vibration is not controlled in line with official regulations, companies face heavy fines of up to £600,000 – in the last five years, 20 companies have been fined a total of £4,357,000 in cases brought by the HSE. Companies could face significant compensation claims with individual compensation payments exceeding £278,000’. (They could face a compensation claim without legal action)
Protect Against HAVS: A Guide for Employers
All employers are legally required to take reasonable steps to protect the workforce against vibration induced medical conditions, and some methods are more effective than others.
Vibration - the damage done
Any work that includes consistent or frequent exposure to vibration through the hands or arms can lead to debilitating and permanent health problems. Most commonly this is caused by the use of a tool that vibrates during use.
The impact can be felt from using drills, impact wrenches, circular saws, reciprocating saws, dual action sanders, polishers, grinders, impact hammers, SDS drills, jig saws, impact drivers, strimmers, lawn mowers, blowers…
“Prevention is better than cure” or in this case (as cure is not possible with HAVS) it should be “prevention is better than (legal) defence.
It is the responsibility of Occupational Health Professionals to manage the HAVS health surveillance programme within organisations where the risk of vibration exposure needs to