Controlling the risks from hand arm vibration
The purpose of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 is to make sure that people do not suffer damage to their health from hand-arm vibration – so controlling the risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration should be where you concentrate your efforts.
Wherever there is exposure to hand-arm vibration, above the EAV, you should be looking for alternative processes, equipment and/or working methods which would eliminate or reduce exposure or mean people are exposed for shorter times. You should also be keeping up with what is good practice for vibration control within your industry.
Where there are things you can do to reduce risks from vibration, that are reasonably practicable, they should be done. However, where vibration exposures are below the EAV, risks are low and so you would only be expected to take actions, which are relatively inexpensive and simple to carry out.
Where your assessment shows that your employees are likely to be exposed at or above the Exposure Action Values, you must put in place a planned programme of vibration control.
How do I use the information from my risk assessment?
When you have identified who is at risk, you need to decide how you can reduce the risks. You must do all that is reasonable to control the risk. First, prepare an action plan for and deal with the high-risk work tasks. Then address the medium and lower-risk activities.
Risk controls include:
Alternative work methods
- Look for alternative work methods which eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration. Your trade association, other industry contacts, equipment suppliers and trade journals may help you identify good practice in your industry.
- Mechanise or automate the work.
Example: Use a breaker attachment on an excavating machine to break concrete rather than using a hand-held breaker.
- Make sure that equipment selected or allocated for tasks is suitable and can do the work efficiently. Equipment that is unsuitable, too small or not powerful enough is likely to take much longer to complete the task and expose employees to vibration for longer than is necessary.
- Select the lowest vibration tool that is suitable and can do the work efficiently.
- Limit the use of high-vibration tools wherever possible.
Example: To cut large holes in brickwork, use a diamond-tipped hole-cutting drill bit with a rotary action rather than a tungsten-tipped hole bit which requires rotary and hammer action.
Purchasing policy for replacing old equipment and tools
Work equipment is likely to be replaced over time as it becomes worn out, and it is important that you choose replacements, so far as is reasonably practicable, which are suitable for the work, efficient and of lower vibration.
- Discuss your requirements with a range of suppliers.
- Check with suppliers that their equipment is suitable and will be effective for the work, compare vibration emission information for different brands/models of equipment, ask for vibration information for the way you plan to use the equipment, and ask for information on any training requirements for safe operation.
- Get your employees to try the different models and brands of equipment and take account of their opinions before you decide which to buy.
- Find out about the equipment’s vibration reduction features and how to use and maintain the equipment to make these features effective.
- Make sure your organisation has a policy on purchasing suitable equipment, taking account of vibration emission, efficiency and your specific requirements.
- Train purchasing staff on the issues relating to vibration so that they can deal effectively with equipment suppliers.
Example: If a breaker has vibration-isolating handles, check how the machine must be operated to ensure the reduced vibration levels are achieved in use and ensure your operators have the necessary training.
- Improve the design of workstations to minimise loads on employees' hands, wrists and arms caused by poor posture.
- Use devices such as jigs and suspension systems to reduce the need to grip heavy tools tightly.
Example: Where a heavy grinder is used at a permanent workstation to do repetitive work, suspend it from a counterbalance system to reduce the load on the operator’s arms and the tightness of grip needed.
- Introduce appropriate maintenance programmes for your equipment to prevent avoidable increases in vibration (following the manufacturer’s recommendations where appropriate).
- Do not use blunt or damaged concrete breaker and chipping hammer chisels and replace consumable items such as grinding wheels, so that equipment is efficient and keeps employee exposure as short as possible.
Example: Check and sharpen chainsaw teeth regularly (following the manufacturer’s recommendations) to maintain the chainsaw's efficiency and to reduce the time it takes to complete the work.
- Limit the time that your employees are exposed to vibration.
- Plan work to avoid individuals being exposed to vibration for long, continuous periods – several shorter periods are preferable.
- Where tools require continual or frequent use, introduce employee rotas to limit exposure times (you should avoid employees being exposed for periods which are long enough to put them in the high risk group (see ‘High risk (above the ELV)’).
Example: Organise employees to work in teams where they switch tasks within the team to avoid individuals having unnecessarily high exposure to vibration.
- Provide your employees with protective clothing when necessary to keep them warm and dry. This will encourage good blood circulation which should help protect them from developing vibration white finger.
- Gloves can be used to keep hands warm, but should not be relied upon to provide protection from vibration.
How do I know if the steps I have taken to control risks are working?
- Check regularly that the programme of controls you have introduced is being carried out by your managers and employees.
- Talk regularly to your managers, supervisors, employees and trade union safety representative or employee representative about whether there are any vibration problems with the equipment or the way it is being used.
- Check the results of health surveillance and discuss with the health service provider whether the controls appear to be effective or need to be changed.