Have you heard of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)? It is not necessarily a well-known condition, but one that can cause serious problems for those working with hand held power tools or other vibratory equipment. Nearly two million people in the UK are at risk from hand arm vibration syndrome, also known as HAVS. But what is it and how can it be prevented?
HAVS is a condition caused by the prolonged use of vibrating tools, such as drills, chainsaws, strimmers, sanders and power mowers. If you use one or more of these tools regularly you could be at risk of HAVS – and if you use these for more than an hour a day, you are likely to be at an even higher risk of developing the condition.
HAVS affects the nerves, joints, muscles, blood vessels or tissues in hands or forearms. It can cause numbness in the fingers and hands, poor circulation and muscular pain. In more severe cases, it can mean that sufferers can lose the ability to use their hands normally, as they may have reduced manual dexterity and grip strength.
Unfortunately, once someone has developed HAVS, it is usually permanent. However, the good news is that HAVS is preventable. Identifying signs of HAVS early on is important as you can prevent the condition from getting any worse by limiting your use of vibrating tools. These early symptoms can include:
- Tingling and numb fingers which carries on after the tool has stopped operating.
- Not being able to feel things properly with your hands.
- Loss of strength in your hands.
- Part of your fingers turning white in cold weather.
If you work with vibrating tools regularly, your employer also has a responsibility to protect you from the harm this may cause. Employers can measure your exposure to vibrating tools using the Health and Safety Executive’s easy-to-use Exposure Points System. If your employer discovers that your use of vibrating tools exceeds the exposure action limit, they can then take steps to reduce your exposure, ensure health surveillance is carried out and ensure you do not exceed the exposure limit value (ELV).
If left unchecked, HAVS can be a life-long debilitating condition. Severe HAVS could also be a cause of long-term sickness absence in employees as it could mean that they are no longer able to continue in their current role.
Employers can refer an employee on long-term sickness absence to Fit for Work, by visiting fitforwork.org/employer and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. (Manufacturers based in the West Midlands can access manufacturing-specific resources on the Fit for Work website.)
Employers or employees looking for more information on HAVS can visit the Fit for Work Advice Hub.