Managing the risk of vibration
23 January 2013
David Lummis looks at the dangers to health of contracting Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and Whole Body Vibration Syndrome (WBVS), and what can be done to monitor and minimise the risks of damage There is increasi
There is increasing awareness of the dangers to health of contracting Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and the debilitating effect this can have on workers.
The EEC directive (2002/44/EC) limits the intake of daily vibration by employees and failing to adhere to this has proved very costly in a number of recent cases where employees have been severely affected by HAVS.
With over five million people in the UK alone exposed to vibration on a regular basis - and of these it is estimated that in excess of two million are sufficiently exposed to seriously risk contracting HAVS - it is important for the protection of employees, as well as employers, to find a way to minimise the risks.
Hand arm vibration is transmitted into the hands and arms of power equipment users. Exposure to hand arm vibration over a period of time can lead to potentially disabling health problems as it affects the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints. Most concerning is the way that HAVS can build up slowly and increase in severity over months and possibly years. The early symptoms can be as little as tingling and slight numbness in the fingers, then potentially loss of strength in cold or wet conditions, which is very painful.
Continued usage of vibrating power tools can lead to permanently numb hands and not being able to grip or pick anything up - ultimately leaving the employee with a disabling condition.
Recent litigation in the UK has resulted in the largest payment to date of £262,000 to a government employee as well as several major PLCs having been liable for five-figure sums. However, Whole Body Vibration Syndrome (WBVS) has received considerably less publicity than HAVS in the UK (although it is growing quickly in the USA) but can be equally debilitating, with substantial numbers of man days lost as a result of back/spinal injuries. The legislation covering WBVS is exactly the same as that for HAVS.
Employees in industries such as construction, quarrying, agriculture, transport and maritime are likely to be most affected.
Any vehicle regularly being driven across rough terrain together with vehicles such as dumper trucks, forklifts, tractors and earth moving machinery will be transmitting vibration to their operators through their feet or from the seat inside the vehicle. In the short term this can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, headaches, lumbago and shaking but, over the longer term, can result in more serious permanent harm to internal organs, muscles, joints and bone structure.
It is therefore vital that control measures are in place to both monitor HAVS/WBVS and to control their exposure to minimise the risks of damage. An increasing number of management tools have come to market. These measure the likely exposure of workers to vibration during the day and indicate when the recommended daily exposure limit has been reached. These include the Curo from Curotec International, which has the flexibility to encompass either HAVS or WBVS, and the HAVI from Havi and the HAVMETER from Reactec, both of which focus on HAVS only. Costs vary dramatically between the systems and it is important to understand the capabilities and limitations of each.
The downloading of information is also important to maintain control records to ensure you and your employees are properly protected.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome and Whole Body Vibration Syndrome must be of major concern to all employers of staff using equipment that will transmit vibrations to the user. With modern techniques there is no excuse for ignoring this increasingly high profile problem and the latest management tools will help ensure you can control the exposure and avoid harming your workers.
Without control, recent cases have shown the results can be very costly to the employer and debilitating to the employee.