Construction physical ill health risks: Vibration
Exposure to vibration when using hand held / operated tools and machinery can lead to permanent injury of the hands and arms. This page tells you how to control these risks and why. More detailed information is available on the main HSE vibration page.
What you must do
Identify and assess: Construction sites have a range of different activities involving vibrating tools and machinery. Consider:
- Who – think about your employees. What equipment are they using? Vibration risks come from many sources including hand-held power tools (such as grinders or road breakers) and hand-guided equipment (like pedestrian controlled floor saws). Give particular consideration to anyone who has a known problem caused by vibration (eg through health surveillance) or those with pre-existing medical conditions of the hands and circulation.
- What – estimate or assess likely exposures from the tasks you are doing. This does not need to be complex, particularly for small sites. As a simple guide workers may be:
- at high risk (ie exposure above the Exposure Limit Value) if they regularly use hammer action tools for more than about an hour per day or some rotary and other action tools for more than about 4 hours per day
- at medium risk (ie exposed above the Exposure Action Value) if they regularly operate the same tools for more than about 15 minutes per day or 1 hour per day respectively
- Where – consider where the work is taking place. For example, adopting an awkward posture can increase the force needed to apply and control tools. This increases the vibration levels passing into the user’s hand and arm.
You may also need to consider any risks from upper limb disorders associated with this work.
Where the risks are judged to be low, simple and inexpensive controls will suffice. For higher risks, you will have to do much more to protect workers. Give priority to the greatest risks first.
Prevent: Where possible think about eliminating or reducing the amount of vibration. Consider:
- eliminating unnecessary vibrating tasks at the design stage and using prefabricated components
- using an alternative process that does not expose workers to vibration. For example:
- block splitters instead of cut-off saws
- bursting or crushing instead of pneumatic drilling
- isolating workers from tasks creating vibration; eg by using a breaker attachment for an excavator or remote controlled equipment instead of a hand-held breaker
Control: Even if you stop some of the risk this way, you may still do other work that can create significant vibration. Control the risk by:
- Equipment – don’t buy or hire a problem if you don’t have to. Select low-vibration tools and equipment. Make sure it is also correct for the work you are doing. Equipment that is unsuitable, too small or not powerful enough may mean the task takes much longer and exposes workers to unnecessary vibration.
- Work practices – the right equipment still has to be used correctly. Check how it should be operated to ensure you get reduced vibration levels. Promote techniques that reduce grip force. Improve the design of workstations to limit the loads on hands, wrists and arms caused by any possible poor posture. Devices, such as jigs and suspension systems, can be used to take the weight and vibration of the tools away from the worker.
- Rest and rotate workers – limit the time workers are exposed to vibration for long, continuous periods. Rotate workers where tools require continual or frequent use.
- Gloves and warm clothing – provide protective clothing if needed to keep workers warm and dry. Maintain core body temperature as this encourages good blood circulation. Use gloves to keep hands warm but be aware that they do not provide any protection from vibration.
Train: Tell workers about the risks from vibration and how to use the controls properly.
Supervise: Ensure that controls are effective and properly used.
Maintain: Effective maintenance can make big differences to vibration levels. Loose or worn parts of tools and plant create extra vibration. Blunt, damaged or inefficient tools have increased vibration and also mean tasks can take longer, increasing exposure levels.
Monitor: Check the controls to ensure they are effective. This might mean:
- Exposure monitoring – there is no legal requirement to continually monitor and record vibration exposure. A period of monitoring can help you understand when and how long workers use particular tools and help with your risk assessment.
- Health surveillance – appropriate health surveillance is needed if workers are exposed above the Exposure Action Value or are considered to be at risk for any other reason. If this finds a problem, you need to:
- review the effectiveness of your current vibration controls and improve these where appropriate
- take action to prevent further harm to the person concerned
What you should know
Vibration is transmitted into your hands and arms when using hand held / operated tools and machinery. Excessive exposure can affect the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm causing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Construction workers are particularly at risk because of the work they do and the equipment they use such as concrete breakers, pokers and compactors, sanders, grinders and disc cutters, hammer drills, chipping hammers, chainsaws, scabblers and needle guns.
HAVS sufferers find this can have an impact on keeping their job and on social and family life. Those affected can experience difficulty carrying out tasks involving fine or manipulative work and everyday tasks, such as fastening small buttons on clothes, become a problem too. Working outdoors in cold conditions, which is common in construction work, increases the likelihood of a painful response. Car washing or even watching outdoor sports when suffering from HAVS can lead to very painful attacks. This damage to the hands is largely irreversible.