An important health and safety issue facing many heavy-industry and construction workers is the risk of vibration injury from certain handheld tools that leads to a condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
We provide HAV’s testing as part of our comprehensive Health Surveillance programme. Tools that are most likely to create risk include chainsaws, grinders, jack-hammers, floor polishers and impact drills. The occupations that involve regular and frequent exposure to vibration include but are not limited to:
Ship building and repair
HAVS is often a painful medical condition that can impact on the everyday lives of those affected by it. HAVS symptoms include:
Numbness and tingling in the fingers
Reduced sense of touch and temperature
Blanching of the fingers, sometimes known as vibration white finger
The objective of health surveillance for HAVS is to safeguard the health of employees and ensure the effectiveness of a company’s existing control measures.
Health surveillance must take place when:
Employees are regularly exposed to hand transmitted vibration (HTV) above the action value of 2.5 minutes over a standard 8 hour day.
If an employee is occasionally exposed to HTV above the action value and the risk assessment identifies that this exposure may pose a risk to health
If an employee has a previous diagnosis of HAVS.
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No. There is no legal requirement for continual monitoring and recording of vibration exposure. To do so is probably not a good use of your or your employees’ time, unless there are very specific circumstances (see below). What you must do is decide what workers’ exposure is likely to be, as part of a vibration risk assessment. So a period of monitoring to understand how long workers use particular tools in a typical day or week may be necessary – if it helps you to do your risk assessment. Once you know enough about the work to say what the exposure is likely to be (and whether it is likely to exceed either the Exposure Action or Exposure Limit Value) your focus can shift to investigating, and taking, practical steps to reduce the exposure and the risks.
It’s likely that you can put your monitoring data to some use. It may give you enough information to decide what individuals or groups of workers are at risk from vibration, either routinely or on an intermittent basis. Please refer to webpage www.hse.gov.uk/vibration for guidance. Take positive action to reduce the exposure and the risks – eg change the work process to avoid the need to use hand tools, modify the work to improve ergonomics, change to better tools with lower vibration and good ergonomic design, maintain and look after the tools and consumables and train your workers. Make sure the action you take results in real changes – monitor your systems and make sure work instructions are being followed. Don’t forget health surveillance for workers at risk, to pick up early signs of ill-health.
Just because your workers’ exposure is below the Limit, it doesn’t mean you have complied with the law, or done enough to protect workers’ health. A fundamental requirement under the regulations is that exposure is reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’. If your workers’ exposure is regularly reaching the Exposure Limit Value, then you should be looking at doing the work in a different way. Restricting exposure to just below the Exposure Limit Value will still result in many workers developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
If there are particular workers who, following medical advice, have restrictions placed on their vibration exposure, then it would be sensible to have a system in place to make sure that that restricted level was not being exceeded, although this does not have to be through on-going monitoring. Another example might be for emergency work involving vibration exposure.
Your insurance company should be able to tell you why it expects you to make and keep these records. As noted above, there is no legal requirement on continual monitoring, and HSE does not advise it on a routine basis. Your insurance company will rightly be concerned about its liability should your workers develop ill-health; you can identify your steps taken to minimise risks and prevent illhealth by means of your risk assessment and evidence of the practical actions you are taking.
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