Get to grips
13 May 2019
Companies need to take a proactive approach to managing exposure to HAV, and Andrew Mee gives an insight into how you can get to grips with the law.
ALL TOO often the management of Hand Arm Vibration (HAV) is placed in the ‘to do later pile’ for British businesses. HAV is something that can also be viewed with scorn by managers that do not appreciate the health risk or the impact HAVS can have on a human life (this is mainly down to lack of training). I’ve been involved in HAV management for a number of years and I have been told countless stories of a personal nature that involve people suffering the effects of poor HAV management. These stories have fired my passion, and I am dedicated to solving the HAV issue. Those of you that have met me know that my drive has always been to solve vibration risk for the people most at risk: The workers who are the backbone of our businesses.
This article is not a traditional HAV article; focused on equations or exposure values 2.5 m/s2A(8) 100 points or, assess, reduce, control etc. There are more than enough articles like that. There are volumes of information available both on the HSE, and our website (www.thehavi.com). The focus of this article is instead; on why we can, and should motivate ourselves to solve the HAVS issue and engage with operators to understand the damage that can occur.
Companies, and businesses often spend more time discussing problems and alternative solutions, getting quotes, carrying out trials, all the while doing nothing to manage HAVS for the worker on the ground. Although this seems to be moving towards compliance your operators are still exposed without controls, they are being hurt.
The main motivators for most businesses are protection against prosecution, and civil claims. Unfortunately this seems to be the main reason for companies and organisations complying.
Before everyone jumps up in protest, claiming. “Well we do things differently!” I would ask you to ask yourself? What are the main motivators of the decision makers within your organisation to manage HAV?
HSE visit looks bad for future contracts?
Cost of civil claim?
Cost of controls?
The above is a typical list of motivators that we come across; really the main motivator should be the health of the employee. Whilst they are employed for your company they should not be harmed. It should be a moral motivator.
If you look after your employees using the guidance and information available from reputable providers like the HSE, you will protect the workforce while also being compliant with the law. Not every solution is right for every company and trials of equipment are necessary; but from experience the most important thing with HAV management and the success of any system is training and to ‘buy in to the issue’. It’s not always just operators or end users that need the most awareness. Supervisors and mangers need to understand why this is an important issue and why it needs to be managed.
The main aim of this article is to shift the focus from the financial cost of HAVS, to the human cost of HAVS.
While there are numerous case studies on the Internet that examine, and explain the dangers of HAVS, they tend to either: Focus on the financial cost to a business1, or simply list the symptoms of HAVS2.Sources like these do little to focus on the real, human cost for the individual who is suffering.
People suffering from HAVS experience numbness, tingling, and loss of nerve sensitivity. The condition has been described as 'painful, and potentially disabling’3. In cold weather the fingers and joints swell, and colour bleeds from affected areas. People find it difficult to lift small objects, due to reduced dexterity, and loss of feeling in their fingertips. On top of all these symptoms, once HAVS has started to develop, there are very few options available to help those suffering. Treatment of HAVS is described as “often ineffective” with best advice often being that workplaces reassign workers “as part of treatment before symptoms become irreversible.4
One victim describes his condition, “Gripping with my thumbs is very difficult and painful, for example when using a brush. I dread the cold winter months and even during at rest periods I experience coldness and painfulness. I can no longer do some of the hobbies I used to enjoy, like swimming and angling.”5
Another operator describes using tools with HAVS: “When I used the tools, sometimes there’s a frost on the tools, the pneumatic tools, when you’ve used them and that accentuates the feeling and they’re dead very dead, numb all the while.”6
Imagine being unable to enjoy a game of darts, lift a pen, or feel your child’s hand in yours: This is the reality that HAVS victims struggle with every day.
As I mentioned earlier managers, and even operators can sneer at the need for HAV management. Allegations of a ‘nanny state’ or accusations of being ‘soft’ can often be heard. These ‘devil may care’ attitudes are among the greatest dangers to operator’s safety. It is vital to understand that HAVS can cause immense, and irreversible damage to a human being. HAVS can, in cases render a person unable to continue working with power tools. If you take one thing from this article, learn that that if your workforce uses vibrating tools the risk of HAVS is real, ever-present, and dangerous.
Of course it is not enough to simply change attitudes, though this is an essential step. There are various proactive measures you can take.
Educate your workforce on the real cost of HAVS. They can combine this new knowledge with their existing expertise, and find solutions that work in your workplace.
Provide workers with good quality equipment, both in terms of warm clothing in the winter months (if working outside) but also good quality consumables and tools. They are more likely to take care of these and it shows that you really do want the best for them.
Maintain your tools. Tools that are well maintained produce less harmful vibration reducing risk and can be much more productive as well.
Use a trusted system to assess as regularly as the risk requires. If the exposure is reducing that’s a great sign!
Combine these steps with a robust risk assessment, and HSE compliant measuring equipment, then your workforce will be safer from the devastating effects of HAV.
In conclusion, despite the difficulties placed before us, I truly believe that if managers, and operators approach the issue with the right attitude, and equipment; HAV is a solvable issue. A combination of the right kit, and attitude, mean you can take the necessary steps to keep your workers safe, and happy.
Andrew Mee is technical director at HAVi. For more information, visit www.thehavi.com