Hand Arm Vibration

Hand-arm vibration (HAVS) comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints).

It is well known that exposure to prolonged (i.e. for several years) exposure to vibration is harmful, and can cause various types of hand dysfunctions. Most common are loss of sensibility, blanching, and decreased grip force in the hands—that is, Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).

The tendency to develop vibration injuries in the hands varies significantly between individuals; some get these symptoms after a few years of vibration exposure, while others can work for decades without problems.

When a vibration injury is fully developed, it is irreversible. The affected person will, in other words, not recover even if the vibration exposure ceases. At this point it cannot be cured by medical or surgical means.

Therefore, it is extremely important to detect incipient vibration damage while prophylactic measures are still effective. It might, for example, be possible to change tools or methods in order to prevent irreversible vibration injury.

Vibration injuries are common in many industries with vibration exposure, such as construction, cutting and sheet metal work, auto repair, welding and electrical work. The problems are also common occupations where the hands are exposed to very high-frequency vibrations, such as dental technicians and dentists.

The injuries often impact the working-age population (young or middle-aged men) and the consequences can be very serious. Damage to the nerves of the hand leads to reduced dexterity and impaired fine-motor skills (“clumsiness”), and, in some cases, severe pain and cramps.

Finger blanching is usually triggered by exposure to a humid or cold environment and can be extremely painful.

HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent. HAVS is serious and disabling, and nearly 2 million people are at risk. Damage from HAVS can include the inability to do fine work and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks.


HAVS conference 2018

In 2018, RSSB supported the development of HAVS risk management by delivering a HAVs conference and an R&D report on the combined effects of vibration, noise and weight on the health risk to employees from hand held tools.

The conference brought together leaders from across the industry to discuss HAVS and share good practices. It created momentum in the industry to keep focusing on a key health risk and created a belief that collaboration can help solve this challenge.

The report delivered a novel approach to health risk management in a similar way that supermarkets use food labelling. The report helped develop an understanding of the combined effects of Noise, Vibration and weight, and how they might be presented together to provide a good indication of what to look out for when deciding which tools to use.

Although the concept is in its early days, it was well-received by the industry at the HAVS conference, so we will continue to assess the benefits of labelling.


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