Hand-arm vibration (HAV) can cause vibration white finger, a permanent and painful numbness and tingling in the hands and arms, also painful joints and muscle weakening. There is also evidence that it may cause carpel tunnel syndrome.
Hand-held portable power tools such as grinders, sanders, impact wrenches and air chisels are used extensively in MVR. These transmit vibration into the operator’s hands and arms. You should only purchase tools that have been designed and constructed to reduce the risk of vibration, and are suitable for their intended use. Train workers to use them safely and keep them properly maintained.
Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can lead to permanent health effects. This is most likely when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular part of a person’s job. Occasional and/or infrequent low exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations place duties on employers and the self-employed to assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration.
The assessment should:
- identify where there might be a risk from vibration and who is likely to be affected;
- contain a reasonable estimate of employees’ exposures;
- identify what needs to be done to comply with the law, eg whether vibration control measures are needed and, if so, where and what type;
- identify any employees who need to be provided with health surveillance and whether any are at particular risk.
Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important and employees need to report these to their employer.
Symptoms include any combination of:
- tingling and numbness in the fingers;
- not being able to feel things properly;
- loss of strength in the hands;
- fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the fingertips at first).
For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years. They are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration and may become permanent.
The effects on people include:
- pain, distress and sleep disturbance;
- inability to do fine work (eg assembling small components) or everyday tasks (eg fastening buttons);
- reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions (ie most outdoor work) which would trigger painful, finger-blanching attacks;
- reduced grip strength, which might affect the ability to do work safely.
Reducing the risks of vibration exposure:
What you should do
- Use an alternative method of work that reduces vibration.
- Consider purchasing handtools that are vibration reduced.
- Keep handtools in a good state of repair, ie regularly serviced and maintained.
- Keep consumables in balance, ie providing training to eliminate bad tool use.
- Encourage employees to report early symptoms.
More detailed information can be read at HSE's vibration page 'Hand- Arm Vibration'.
- A panel beater had worked for over 15 years with a major car dealership, repairing vehicles using a variety of hand-held power tools. More recently the number of employees in the body shop fell but the workload remained fairly constant, and the panel beater's use of power tools rose from two or three hours a day to five, six or even more.
- He started to develop HAVS symptoms and reported it to his employer who eventually sent him for a medical examination, where he was diagnosed with early stage vibration white finger (VWF). Despite this his workload grew and his condition deteriorated.
- HSE got to hear of the situation and investigated. On-site measurements taken by HSE showed that the panel beater's average daily usage was around double the recommended exposure – and sometimes considerably higher. The extent of his condition meant the panel beater had to give up vehicle repair work altogether.
- The company was prosecuted and had to pay £38,000.
- Health and safety in motor vehicle repair and associated industries - HSG261
- Hand-arm vibration: Advice for employees (INDG296)