May 16, 2016

HAV you mitigated the risk of Health and Safety claims?

Failure to protect your employees from the risks associated with vibration can result in prosecution and large fines, as discovered by two separate construction firms.

The two firms have been fined a total of £292,000 and ordered to pay costs of £16,852.  The fines were issued following reported cases of carpel tunnel syndrome and hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) to employees. Both companies pleaded guilty for safety breaches.

Derby Crown Court heard how employees of two separate companies were regularly exposed to HAVS through the use of a range of vibratory tools in the assembly and servicing of crushers and screeners.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation identified that for over 7 years both employers failed to carry out suitable and sufficient assessments for the risk from vibration, and failed to make reasonable estimates of employee’s exposure.

What are the symptoms of HAV?

If your employees complain of the following symptoms they may be suffering with HAVS:

  • 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 tips at first)

For some people symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years.

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

HAV is a genuinely life changing illness if not prevented or identified early, and this is why the fines and insurance claims are so high.

What the Law Requires

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 has been in force since July 2005, it aims to protect workers from risks to health from the effects of vibration.

The regulations introduce action and limit values for hand-arm and whole-body vibration:

  • Exposure action value of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) at which level employers should introduce technical and organisational measures to reduce exposure.
  • Exposure limit value of 5.0 m/s2 A(8) which should not be exceeded.

Employers are required to identify tools and work methods which may put their workers at risk from exposure.

Where there is a risk to health from vibrating tools, employers must implement steps to minimise exposure to the lowest level possible and monitor both exposure time and the health of their employees.

Employers are required to notify the HSE when an employee is confirmed to be suffering from HAVS.

The solution

In many businesses the risk associated with HAVS will be low but we find that many employers haven’t even considered the risk as part of their Risk Assessment process.

  • Identify tools and processes that could put employees at risk from HAVS, and then record these on a register.
  • Use the technical data supplied with the equipment, and measure the time that tools are used, or processes are undertaken. This will often indicate that there is nothing more to be done.
  • Create a graph to plot the equipment vibration rating and operating times, this creates a point score for the task. Tasks are then added together to determine a risk rating.

Modern technology now allows employees to measure actual exposure more accurately, using meters that operators attach to tools; these can be attached to a computer which produces reports of actual exposure.

A recent article on the HSE news feed brings into focus the need to properly manage Hand Arm Vibration. Read the article here.

Occupational Health monitoring, such as Health Assessment Questionnaire’s, should be carried out to identify workers showing early symptoms.

Please contact us for further guidance or visit the HRhub.

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About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.