Staywell » Blog » Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and How Health Surveillance Can Help

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and How Health Surveillance Can Help

Hand-arm vibration injuries are caused by using machinery or tools that can, over time, lead to damage to the fingers, hands or arms. It can, for instance, be caused by using power tools or operating heavy machinery such as concrete breakers and pedestal grinders. Whether you are at risk of HAVS depends on how often and how long you use this machinery for.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, you could potentially suffer from an injury if you:

  • Use a tool with a hammer action for more than 15 minutes a day.
  • Use other rotary or action tools for over an hour each day.

Types of Hand-Arm Vibration Injury

There are three main areas where damage can occur through the use of vibrating tools or machinery:

  • Neurological damage: When the nerves of your finger, hands or arms have been damaged you might feel a tingling sensation or numbness which can get worse over time, reducing sensibility and affecting dexterity. If this condition is allowed to progress it can cause irreparable damage.
  • Vascular damage: Using vibrating machinery can also cause damage to the small blood vessels, in some circumstances affecting blood supply. This can also produce numbness and pain because of changes to blood flow.
  • Muscular skeletal damage: Excessive vibration can also cause problems for the joints in the fingers, wrist and elbow which can also reduce the ability to grip an object.

Testing for Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome

With around 5 million people exposed to the potential of HAVS, it’s important for employers to ensure that employees are regularly tested for any potential damage. Obviously, this affects some industries more than others, including sectors such as construction and areas where power tools and heavy machinery are routinely used such as manufacturing.

The parameters for HAVS prevention are set by the Control of Vibrations at Work Regulations 2005 and proper testing by a qualified occupational health service is important for ensuring the safety of employees. This testing will normally include:

  • Tier 1: Assessment before undertaking employment: This gives OH professionals a baseline from which to work with and also helps identify any employees who may already have HAVS issues that need to be dealt with.
  • Tier 2: This is normally carried out each year and involves the employee filling out a detailed self-assessment questionnaire. If there are concerns that someone is suffering from HAVS then they will be referred for a clinical examination.
  • Tier 3 Clinical examination: If HAVS is suspected, the clinical tests are carried out by a specially qualified OH nurse and will include testing for grip strength – if the results show that an employee does have the symptoms of HAVS they are then referred to a specialist doctor.
  • Tier 4 Making a formal diagnosis: This is carried out by an occupational health doctor, often using standardised tests, and an assessment is then made concerning the employee’s fitness to carry out their duties and whether restrictions should be introduced.

Regular assessment means that any potential for developing HAVS can be spotted quickly and measures put in place to ensure employees are treated effectively. Employers can also mix their HAVS testing in with other occupational health services such as hearing tests, lung function tests and skin surveillance, depending on industry or sector.

Better health monitoring ensures problems are spotted early and measures put in place to reduce risk or treat employees, cutting costs for businesses in the long-term. It also ensures businesses stay on the right side of current health and safety legislation, particularly when it comes to issues such as hand-arm vibration syndrome.

Find out more about HAVS surveillance for your business here.

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