New report shines light on HAVS threat
09 December 2019
Traditional methods of regular assessment and generic control measures can help some but inevitably not all workers and can result in an underestimation of vibration exposure by up to 76%, putting people at serious risk according to a new report.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is caused by an over exposure to vibrations when using handheld power tools. Symptoms can take time to become apparent but once evident there is no treatment to reverse the harm and quality of life impact for sufferers is extreme. Day-to-day activities such as pulling up a zip, holding a glass or playing games with children are affected.
Notably the greatest errors from task-based risk assessment tend to be from the highest risk activities. This is due to tool data, commonly used in risk assessments not being representative of the risk in the field due to individual differences from user competency and tool behaviour. This was highlighted in a study involving a leading utilities company.
Supported by Reactec, the company conducted an exercise in which 14 operators deployed in small teams excavated a specific hole size using the same tool. Individuals were closely monitored with accurate real-time measurement of time of exposure and vibration magnitude during the activity. Five workers exceeded the level determined as the expected risk for the activity, and one individual called Pete, had an exposure close to the daily maximum allowed by the regulations and six times higher than some of his colleagues. Conventional risk assessment did not predict this risk, but real-use monitoring did.
Alan Finley, a HAVS sufferer outlined the impact the disorder has had on his life: “When I first started there were no such things as monitoring or anything like that. You would grab a tool and use it. You didn’t know the consequences or what damage it was doing to you.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night with cramps. It would be like as if you had been lying on your hands and they had gone numb. Even if I picked up a little drill to do a few bits and bobs around the house, I felt the tingling and would be in constant pain.”
Harry Gardner, a health, safety and environment consultant, believes employers should go above and beyond what regulations appear to demand: “There is no such thing as a safe level of vibration, if you are working to minimum standards, you are just dicing with someone’s health. We should always be striving to achieve the lowest possible level.”
Technology, that has become available since the legislation came into force in 2005, can enable managers to have a heightened yet practical real-time risk assessment. More accurate tool use tracking and real time vibration exposure data improves the visibility of worker exposure to vibration. By providing more representative risk data for each individual, an employer is better enabled to implement controls to reduce their employees risk.
Jacqui McLaughlin, CEO of Reactec, said: “Wearable technology like HAVwear enables employers to comply with the 2005 Regulations and to go further in protecting employees. HSE guidance advises that wearables are acceptable for risk assessments when used in trigger time mode, making HAVwear a viable option for those in charge of risk assessments. However, HAVwear also provides an assessment of real-tool use. Such data gives unique insights into an individual’s vibration exposure. If this shows an individual is at higher risk than the trigger time mode assessment suggests, it can be invaluable in investigating the reasons for the increased risk and taking steps to reduce exposure. Employers are then fully meeting regulatory objectives to reduce HAVS risks as low as reasonably practicable.”
There are 2 million workers at risk of developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) in the UK, and currently 300 thousand people suffering advanced stages. Yet, the current regulations in place offer limited protection for workers and are potentially putting people at risk. HAVS disease-related employee claims have been rising sharply and is the highest reported industrial illness according to HSE.