What Is HAVS? Get To Grips With Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome header image

15th October, 2018

What Is HAVS? Get To Grips With Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome

Nearly 2 million people in the UK are at risk from HAVS. It's a painful, disabling and serious condition that's permanent, but preventable. Are you at risk? Has HAVS already started affecting you? Let's get to grips with HAVS so you know how to avoid it.

What is HAVS?

HAVS stands for Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome. The condition develops from the use of hand-held power tools and is a significant health risk wherever powered hand tools are used for substantial lengths of time.

The higher the levels of the vibration you are exposed to, and the longer durations you are exposed for, the higher risk you are at of developing HAVS. The higher the levels of vibration a tool has, the less time it is safe to use.

Symptoms of HAVS include tingling and numbness, loss of strength, and vibration white finger. Find out more about the HAVS Symptoms You Need To Spot Before It's Too Late.

HAVS is the result of damage to:

  • Sensory nerves
  • Muscles
  • Blood circulation (vibration white finger)
  • Bones
  • Joints

What causes HAVS?

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) can be caused by operating vibrating equipment such as breakers, wacker plates, hammer drills and even lawn mowers. It can also be caused by holding materials that are being processed my machines causing vibration.

One off or infrequent exposure is unlikely to pose a risk. However, regular exposure to high levels of vibration can lead to permanent injury. This becomes more likely when a person’s job involves contact with vibrating equipment or machinery.

Types of vibrating equipment known to cause HAVS includes:

  • Chainsaws
  • Grinders
  • Impact drills
  • Scaling hammers
  • Mowers
  • Saws
  • Floor polishers
  • Powered hammers
  • Breakers
  • Sanders
  • Polishers

Regular exposure to vibration can cause permanent damage to the nerves, muscles and joints of the hands and arms, and collectively these injuries are referred to as Hand-Arm Vibrations Syndrome (HAVS).

Who is at risk?

Anyone who is regularly exposed to vibrating tools and equipment is at risk from HAVS. Even if you are not within an at-risk industry, the type of work you carry out may put you at risk. If you have regular and frequent exposure to vibration, you should consider yourself at risk from HAVS.

Those working in the construction, engineering and mining industries are most at risk, due to the nature of the works and the likelihood of regular contact with vibrating equipment.

It's a condition that mostly affects workers in:

  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Forestry
  • Foundries
  • Motor vehicle manufacture and repair
  • Maintenance of parks, gardens, verges, grounds etc
  • Shipbuilding and ship repair
  • Utilities (eg gas, water, telecommunications)

Make sure your workforce is aware of the risks with the free vibration toolbox talk.

Can you stop HAVS?

As we mentioned earlier in this post, the HAVS is permanent. One the symptoms of HAVS develop, you cannot reverse them. Because HAVS is irreparable damage to your nerves, muscles and joints, prevention is the only option.

There is a legal requirement to adequately control and manage the risks presented by vibrating equipment, should this be used within your organisation.

The good news is that there are a number of things you can put in place to reduce the risks from vibrating equipment. Even better, a number of these controls are of no or little cost, and can other benefits such as productivity and quality improvements. Control measures include:

Eliminate the need for vibrating equipment

Look for alternative ways of working which eliminate the need for vibrating equipment. For example, using pre-cast concrete which has channels formed for services removed the need to create channels for services on site through concrete slabs.

Equipment selection

Make sure the right equipment is selected for the job. Equipment manufacturers are generally trying to improve the vibration performance of their products, so new tools and machines are likely to emit lower vibration than older equipment.

Job rotation

You should minimise the time individual members of your workforce are exposed to vibrating equipment, through rotating those using the equipment, therefore breaking up continuous periods of using the equipment.

Job design

Steps such as avoiding poor posture can greatly reduce the impact of exposure to vibrating tools and equipment. Designing the work to use jigs or mechanical aids to hold vibrating materials or tools can also reducing or prevent exposure. Certain types of PPE such as gloves can help reduce the risk, particularly during cold weather, by keeping hands and fingers warm when operating vibrating equipment.

Maintenance

Keeping tools in good working order with regular maintenance will help reduce the levels of vibration your workforce are exposed to. Vibration mounts that are worn out, rotating parts that are out of balance and tools that have gone blunt will all increase the vibrating output and therefore increase the risk.

You can check if your vibration exposure is within legal limits, and calculate exposure for one or multiple tools with our free HAVS calculator.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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