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Greater investment in HAV prevention needed

23 January 2013

More than £100m of compensation has been paid out to sufferers of Vibration White Finger (VWF) yet many companies and organisations that regularly use vibrating tools - are still not investing in prevention methods says J

More than £100m of compensation has been paid out to sufferers of Vibration White Finger (VWF) yet many companies and organisations that regularly use vibrating tools - are still not investing in prevention methods says Jim O'Hagan

Medically known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), Vibration White Finger (VWF) affects tens of thousands of British workers employed across the private and public sectors.

However with some two million people exposed to the risk of VWF daily, that number is expected to rise.

HAVS is the result of over exposure to vibration equipment - such as power tools, diggers and grass cutters - and can mean painful and disabling injuries of the blood vessels, nerves, joints and muscles in the hands and arms. In extreme cases it can even mean the loss of fingers.

The introduction of legislation in 2005 in the form of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations has stipulated how much vibration is acceptable in the form of Exposure Action Values (EAVs) the daily amount of vibration exposure above which employers are required to take action. The regulations also set out acceptable exposure limit values (ELVs), the maximum amount of vibration anyone can safely be exposed to on a single day.

But despite the legislation, HAVS remains a major issue. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) believes that there may be as many as 300,000 people in the UK suffering with VWF, with construction equipment cited as one of the biggest causes.

Thousands of compensation cases are settled every year over vibration injuries, and companies face stiff penalties reaching into tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds for failing to implement acceptable prevention measures to keep their workers safe. And it is not just an issue that affects construction firms either - as Land Rover discovered when it was recently fined more than £60,000 for failing to manage the risks of working with power tools.

However, as startling as these figures are, many companies and organisations that regularly use vibrating tools - are still not investing in VWF prevention.

Thankfully, there are many others who want and need to be viewed as considerate employers, which is why they have invested in new preventative technology to safeguard their employees.

Roy Jackson, senior safety advisor for BAM Nuttall, chose the HAVmeter system as a method for monitoring vibration levels and safeguarding staff who use vibrating tools and equipment.

He said: "Hand Arm Vibration safety is a huge issue for the construction industry. There are clear HSE guidelines in place for acceptable vibration exposure and it is up to every company to ensure that they do not exceed these levels.

"BAM Nuttall has always tried to stay on top of the issue of HAVS and ensure the safety of our workforce. In the past, we were trying to accurately estimate the amount of vibration that staff were exposed to ourselves, but this was a lengthy and time-consuming process and we knew that we needed a better system.

"When we first introduced HAVmeters two years ago, we saw them as the best option to use to stay ahead of the game on vibration safety. The devices give us a valuable monitoring system that makes sure we know who is working with what machinery and for how long - and provides us with accurate, detailed records of what our teams are exposed to.

"We now use HAVmeters in every project where our staff operate vibrating equipment. By using this equipment, we ensure that we not only keep our workforce safe from injury but also have a robust defence in place to protect ourselves from liability when it comes to vibration issues." By implementing a vibration monitoring system, firms can allow workers using vibrating tools to easily and accurately monitor their exposure levels to Hand Arm Vibration.

With our system, each worker signs out a HAVmeter from a base station at the beginning of each shift using their own personalised card which is programmed with the levels of exposure they should work within. They then attach the device to every tool that they use during their shift.

The meters provide a constant readout of exposure level and flash a warning to the worker when his/her exposure limits are reached. It is a simple yet accurate method to monitor workers' use of vibration equipment, which allows both employee and employer to know exactly who has been doing what and when.

While HSE regulations require employers to take responsibility to monitor time spent using vibrating machinery.

The HAVmeter system builds up a complete and detailed record of tool usage and HSE exposure points for each employee every day. Once the data is uploaded into Toolminder software, a comprehensive set of standard and custom reports can be created that show workers a full breakdown of their exposure to vibration levels that management and occupational healthcare staff can use to manage each employee's healthcare plan.

Jim O'Hagan is the managing director of Reactec Ltd, the inventors of the HAVmeter.