Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)

Hand-arm vibration (HAV) at work can arise from the use of hand-held power tools, hand-guided machinery and hand-fed machines. Prolonged and regular exposure to this vibration may affect the operator’s health. This may lead to changes in tendons, muscles, bones and joints, and can affect the nervous system. Collectively, these effects are known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).  

Symptoms of hand arm vibration syndrome can include:

  • Impaired circulation to the fingers / hand Parts of fingers appear pale white / blue colour particularly when the worker`s hands are exposed to cold temperatures. This can be known as `vibration white finger`, `dead finger` or `dead hand`. As blood returns to the fingers they may develop throbbing or pain as the fingers warm up
  • Impaired sensation to the fingers / hand reduced sensation, tingling  or numbness to the fingers this may initially affects the tips of the fingers in milder cases, but may affect the whole finger in more serious cases.
  • Stiffness / loss of dexterity to the fingers / hand difficulty picking up smaller objects such as small screws or small coins or difficulties fastening buttons on clothing.
  • Loss of grip strength due to nerve or muscle damage

Hand arm vibration syndrome can be prevented, but not cured. If you smoke, this can make symptoms worse so if you can stop smoking, this may help you. A paper published by the Health and Safety Executive in 2015 suggests that stopping the use of vibration tools can lead to a limited improvement on circulation, but unfortunately once nerves have been damaged, they cannot be repaired.

Employers` responsibilities - HAVS

It is not always possible to avoid using vibration tools in a job, but where it is unavoidable employers have a responsibility to ensure that the use of such tools does not expose a worker to a significant risk of developing hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 requires all employers, by law, must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure to hand arm vibration to protect the workers from risks to health.

Where the risk assessment identifies workers are at risk of vibration exposure employers must have health surveillance in place to minimise the risk of the disease progression.

Health Surveillance for Hand Arm Vibration - HAVS

Health surveillance for Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome encompasses a “tiered approach”

  • Tier One: Initial or Baseline Assessment - short questionnaire for people moving into jobs involving exposure to vibration.
  • Tier Two: Annual (Screening) Questionnaire - to be issued once a year to employees exposed to vibration risks.
  • Tier Three: A health assessment undertaken by a qualified person (e.g. occupational health professional with a specialist qualification in HAVs assessments).
  • Tier Four: Formal diagnosis - This involves a formal diagnosis and is carried out by an occupational health doctor who also has a specialist qualification in HAVs assessments.
  • Tier Five: An optional specialist referral involving specific HAVs tests, which may aid the doctor’s assessment of fitness for work. 

The Health and Work Consultancy Hand Arm Vibration Health Surveillance includes:

  • A confidential questionnaire
  • History of vibration exposure
  • Hand examination
  • Worker education at the time of test 
  • Referral to a specialist medical consultant if necessary
  • A record sheet for managers which will satisfy HSE requirements
  • Permanently retained records (40 years)

Further sources of information

If you have any questions about hand arm vibration assessment or any other occupational health services for your business in Cardiff, Wales and London, don't hesitate to call us on 02920 682028 or Contact us.