Friday, 30 October 2009

Hand Arm Vibration

What is hand-arm vibration?

Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted from work processes into workers’ hands and arms. It can be caused by operating hand-held power tools, such as chainsaws, strimmers, and hand-guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by machines. The use of this equipment comes under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

When is it hazardous?

Frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can cause permanent health effects. This is most likely when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular part of a person’s job, occasional exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.

Health Effects

Hand-arm vibration can cause a range of conditions collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), as well as specific diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome.


Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important as this will allow you to take action to prevent the health effects from becoming serious.

The symptoms include any combination of:

• tingling and numbness in the fingers
• not being able to feel things properly
• loss of strength in the hands
• the fingers going white and red and painful on recovery, particularly when cold and wet

For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years. They are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration and may become permanent.

What effects do these symptoms have?

The effects on people include:

• pain, distress and sleep disturbance.
• inability to do fine work (e.g. assembling small components) or everyday tasks (e.g. fastening buttons).
• reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions.
• reduced grip strength which might affect the ability to do work safely.

They can severely limit the jobs an affected person is able to do, as well as many family and social activities.

Assess the risks

You should assess whether there is likely to be a significant risk from hand-arm vibration and which operations involve regular exposure to vibration. See if there are any warnings of vibration risks in equipment handbooks; ask employees if they have any of the HAVS symptoms described above and whether the equipment being used produces high levels of vibration or uncomfortable strains on hands and arms.

The person who does the risk assessment should have read and understood the HSE information, have a good knowledge of the work processes used at work and be able to collect and understand relevant information.

A plan of action based on assessment should be drawn up and put into effect:

• make a list of equipment that may cause vibration, and what sort of work it is used for.
• collect information about the equipment from equipment handbooks (make, model, power, vibration risks, vibration information etc).
• make a list of users of vibrating equipment and which jobs they do.
• note as accurately as possible how long users’ hands are actually in contact with the equipment while it is vibrating, in some cases this may only be a few minutes in several hours of work with the equipment.
• ask users which equipment seems to have high vibration and about any other problems they may have in using it, e.g. its weight, awkward postures needed to use the tool, difficulty in holding and operating it.


Group your work activities according to whether they are high, medium or low risk and then plan your action to control risks for the users at greatest risk first.

High risk

Users who regularly operate: vibrating tools for more than one hour per day; or some rotary and other action tools for more than about four hours per day. Users in this group are likely to be above the exposure limit value set out in the Regulations. The limit value could be exceeded in a much shorter time in some cases, especially where the tools are not the most suitable for the job.

Medium risk

Users who regularly operate: vibrating tools for more than about 15 minutes per day; or some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day. Users in this group are likely to be exposed above the exposure limit value set out in the Regulations.

Machinery manufacturers are obliged to include information on vibration levels in their manuals, however be aware that this will have been carried out in “ideal conditions” and may have no correlation with the conditions that you will be using the equipment in.

Control the risks

When you have identified who is at risk, you need to decide how you can reduce the risks. You must do all that is reasonable to control the risk.

Equipment selection

Make sure that equipment selected or allocated for tasks is suitable and can do the work efficiently. Equipment that is unsuitable, too small or not powerful enough is likely to take much longer to complete the task and expose employees to vibration for longer than is necessary. Select the lowest vibration tool that is suitable and can do the work efficiently.

Equipment is likely to be replaced over time as it becomes worn out, and it is important that you choose replacements, which are suitable for the work, efficient and of lower vibration.


Introduce appropriate maintenance programmes for your equipment to prevent avoidable increases in vibration (following the manufacturer’s recommendations where appropriate).

Example: Check and sharpen chainsaw teeth regularly (following the manufacturer’s recommendations) to maintain the chainsaw’s efficiency and to reduce the time it takes to complete the work.

Work schedules

Plan working schedules to avoid individuals being exposed to vibration for long, continuous periods – several shorter periods are preferable.

Where tools require continual or frequent use, introduce rotas to limit exposure times (you should avoid users being exposed for periods which are long enough to put them in the high risk category).

Good Practice

Ensure that all users of equipment are aware of and implement:

• changes to working practices to reduce vibration exposure;
• correct selection, use and maintenance of equipment;
• correct techniques for equipment use, how to reduce grip force etc.
• maintenance of good blood circulation at work by keeping warm and massaging fingers and, if possible, cutting down on smoking.


Provide your employees with protective clothing when necessary to keep them warm and dry. This will encourage good blood circulation which can help protect them from developing vibration white finger; on the Granite site you will find an extensive range of garments under Forestry Clothing.

Gloves can be used to keep hands warm and some are able to reduce but not eliminate vibration. On the Granite site you will find a range of gloves from Timberland including the Timberland Vibstop 1 Glove.

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