HAVS: How construction managers can promote safety and reduce liability
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (more commonly known as HAVS) is a condition that causes damage to nerves and blood vessels in the arms and hands – and nearly two million people are at risk. Symptoms include tingling and numbness in the hands and arms, loss of grip strength and the deterioration of hand motor function. Most importantly, though, HAVS is an entirely preventable condition. Despite this, over 5,600 new cases of HAVS were assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit between 2010 and 2019.
The condition occurs in those who use high-vibration power tools such as chainsaws, hammer drills and sanders for unsafe lengths of time. Site managers should be aware of the condition and take some simple steps to reduce their workers’ exposure to unsafe vibration.
What is an unsafe level of vibration?
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 introduced vibration exposure limits at which employers must take action. These limits are based on a combination of the level of vibration at the tool grip point and the amount of time spent using the tool. The Regulations stipulate that:
- An exposure action value (EAV) of more than 2.5 m/s2 means that employers should introduce technical and organizational measures to reduce exposure
- An exposure limit value of 5.0 m/s2 should not be exceeded.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the exposure action value is likely to be reached after 15 minutes when using a hammer action tool and an hour when using a non-hammer action tool. The exposure limit value is likely to be reached after about an hour when using a hammer action tool and about four hours when using a non-hammer action tool.
Compliance with these Regulations is the simplest way for site managers to avoid worker disability from preventable HAVS.
HAVS risk control measures
There are two essential methods of reducing vibration exposure in workers:
- Reducing the level of vibration transmitted to the hand
- Reducing the time spent handling vibrating tools and equipment.
These two methods can be broken down into several actionable steps that, although simple, can go a long way to protecting your workers’ health and wellbeing.
- Risk assessment and vibration measurement – the first step is to calculate the vibration levels to which your employees are exposed and how long they are using vibrating tools and equipment on a daily basis. The HSE has guidance on conducting vibration risk assessments on its website.
- Minimise the use of vibrating tools wherever possible – plan projects to reduce the use of vibrating tools in the first instance. Where their use is unavoidable, ensure that workers move between tasks and take breaks so that they are not exposed to excessive vibration for long periods.
- Keep tools well maintained – tools that are worn or damaged will usually vibrate more and lead to unnecessary vibration exposure.
- Replace older tools with low-vibration alternatives – when tools and equipment need replacing, this is an excellent time to invest in low-vibration models.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and warm clothes – studies have shown that keeping warm can reduce the effects of HAVS. While employers should not rely on this fact alone, they should ensure that their workers have access to gloves and other protective equipment to reduce their vibration exposure.
- Employee training – employees should be taught to properly and safely use vibrating tools and equipment, as well as to recognise the early signs of HAVS in order to avoid long-term damage.
Employers Liability – for the worst-case scenario
While employers can take measures to drastically reduce their workers’ risk of long-term damage from HAVS, this risk cannot be totally eliminated if the use of power tools is a core part of an employee’s job. In the unlikely scenario that a worker does develop HAVS symptoms, they may have grounds to pursue a claim for compensation.
These types of scenarios, however unlikely they may be, are the reason why it is so important for employers to have flexible and comprehensive Employers Liability cover. To talk to Focus about our Employers Liability offering, please call 0345 345 0777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.