Hand Arm Vibration

Some employees who use hand-held tools and machines producing very high levels of hand arm vibration can suffer permanent injuries to their hands and arms.

An employer has a duty to provide health surveillance for all their employees who, despite actions to control the risk, are likely to be regularly exposed above the Exposure Action Value (EAV) or are considered to be at risk for any other reason. The Health and Safety Executive Guidance (HSG88) recommends a preventative approach to control the risk of injury from hand arm vibration.

Health surveillance could pick up employees showing early signs of injury, which should then be medically assessed. Employees and employers should be advised about continuing to work with high vibration equipment. Annual screening could help stop problems developing at an early stage

The new regulations also require the employer to carry out suitable and sufficient hand arm vibration risk assessments, and then implement appropriate controls to eliminate or control vibration to below the EAV and/or to accommodate employees who are shown to be particularly susceptible.

Employers must provide health surveillance to those at risk, as well as relevant information, instruction and training to affected employees.

There is a tiered approach to assessing

Level 1 (Initial or baseline assessment)

  • A confidential questionnaire
  • History of vibration exposure
  • Hand examination
  • Counselling
  • Referral to a specialist medical consultant if necessary (Level 3)
  • A record sheet for managers which will satisfy HSE requirements

Level 2: (Annual Screening Questionnaire)
In the absence of HAVS health issues being declared at Tier One, a HAVS questionnaire should be completed at twelve monthly intervals.

Level 3: (Assessment by Qualified Person)
This normally follows level 2 if symptoms are reported.

Questionnaire and assessment by a suitably qualified Occupational Health professional. This is not a full medical examination but is a targeted assessment.

If the results indicate a likelihood of HAVS signs and symptoms, a presumptive diagnosis may be recorded, but then a referral to an Occupational Health Physician is recommended. Only at level 4 can a formal diagnosis be made.

Level 4: (Formal Diagnosis)
At this level, the Occupational Health Physician will be able to advise the employer whether or not the case is reportable under RIDDOR 1995.

Refer to Hand Arm Vibration: The control of vibration at work regulations (L 140)

Level 5: (Use of Standardised Tests) – Optional
These tests provide quantitative assessment of the condition which can then be compared to “normal” data.

This level is not normally part of routine health surveillance, but is often used to monitor progression of the disease.

Regular and frequent exposure to hand arm vibration can lead to permanent ill health. This is most likely if contact with a vibrating tool or work piece is a regular part of someone’s job. Occasional or low level exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.

Hand arm vibration can cause a range of conditions called ‘hand arm vibration (HAVS)’. The best known is vibration white finger (VWF), but vibration also links to specific diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome. For some people symptoms appear after only a few months of exposure but for others it may take years. The symptoms can severely limit the jobs that someone is able to do as well as affect family and social activities.